From the Desk of Dave Kasievich, Head of School, St. James School, Philadelphia
“Let’s get on with it”
– Dr. Audrey E. Evans
On this Feast Day of St. Michael and all the Angels, I write with the news that Dr. Audrey Evans, Co-Founder of St. James School and friend to so many of us, died peacefully at home in the company of caregivers, loved ones, and God.
I first met Dr. Evans in 2009 on the campus of The Church of St. James the Less, at a “Come and See” themed gathering hosted by Father Sean Mullen, St. James School’s first Co-Founder and Rector of Saint Mark’s Church (Locust Street). It was one in a series of gatherings to introduce the idea of starting a school on the abandoned property.
My memory of the meeting is vivid. I was new to Father Mullen, the people gathered, and the vision that Father Mullen was setting along with a talented group of educators, community members, and friends. It was winter. The vacant school house was cold and in need of a lot of care. Father Mullen’s vision of starting a new Episcopal school was challenging for almost everyone.
Yes, we left this and other meetings inspired, but admittedly, we left with a lingering curiosity as to how we were going to manage. In the midst of an economic downturn (2008), facing millions of dollars of deferred maintenance, we would need to garner tremendous financial support – and do it without tuition, an endowment or alumni giving.
There were many naysayers. Not Dr. Audrey Evans though! I discovered her tenacity and passion at the end of a lengthy group discussion about the exciting vision and the myriad of reasons why it might not work. Dr. Evans stood up and said, “Let’s get on with it. We have everything we need. God has practically handed us this glorious campus. The property and neighborhood are screaming for a school!”
I was curious about the person delivering this prophetic message with an English accent, the woman who just told a room of well-respected educators, neighbors, and friends to “get on with it” and start St. James School. This was the first of many instances in which Dr. Evans would lead with passion and deep clarity. It was the start of my St. James journey. It was also the glorious beginning of my friendship with Dr. Evans.
Father Mullen, Dr. Evans and I became close partners in mission – along with many others – leading the effort to address the opportunity gap and reduce the impact of poverty and trauma on the children in the neighborhood. As I learned more about Dr. Evans, I began to see how her vision for the school aligned with her legacy at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Ronald McDonald House Philadelphia. It was hard to fathom the gift that Dr. Evans’ leadership was bringing to North Philadelphia.
Soon after retiring from medicine in 2009, Dr. Evans was at a loss about her direction in life. She met with Father Sean Mullen, her Rector at Saint Mark’s (Locust Street), to explore where God would be calling her next. Father Mullen invited Dr. Evans to join him in the work of founding St. James School. From what I understand, Dr. Evans was enthusiastic but unsure if her skillset was right for starting a school. Thanks be to God, Dr. Evans had a deep commitment to her faith and the gift of listening to God’s call.
Throughout her life, Dr. Evans would retreat and ground herself at Holy Cross Monastery (NY), a peaceful and holy place to listen to the voice of God with the help of the monks there. She went again after her conversation with Father Mullen and there she heard the Gospel of John (21:15-17) in which Jesus gives Peter a three-fold command to “feed my lambs.” Having grown up in the countryside of England, Dr. Evans had much experience with lambing. She wondered, was God calling her to go back to England? On the train ride back to Philadelphia, God’s message became clear to her. She needed to accept Father Mullen’s invitation.
Her “yes” to Father Mullen and to God’s message to feed and guide the young provided the foundation for St. James School’s “total care” approach to our students. Our passion for attending to each student’s academic, social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and creative gifts and needs is Dr. Evans’ legacy at St. James.
When it came to advocating for children and their families, Dr. Audrey Evans was a force to be reckoned with. She was ever present to the community of St. James and worked closely with me on all levels of friend-raising. Her greatest joy was praying, sharing meals, and celebrating with the students, families, and staff of St. James School.
Dr. Evans regularly took part in All School Mass and family-style lunches and was a proud member of House Industria. She attended committee and board meetings, school-wide events such as the Thanksgiving Feast, our Advent Celebration, and her favorite, the annual Easter Egg Hunt in the Churchyard. Dr. Evans also washed dishes, collected food for The Welcome Table, tended our gardens, wrote notes on thousands of appeal letters, and was at my side for church visits and donor cultivation events.
Yet her most important role was her constant prayer for the ongoing work at St. James. Dr. Evans frequently whispered to me, “God has been so good to us. What’s happening at St. James is beyond our imagination. I will keep praying.”
You and I have much in common with Dr. Evans. Like her, you and I have said “yes” to the invitation to “come and see” St. James and to be transformed by our collective work.
Dr. Evans knew she would be recognized for accomplishing many important things in her life. In fact, her impact on the world has been so extraordinary that a feature film about her life and legacy entitled Audrey’s Children is currently being produced. However, Dr. Evans would often say that “caring” was the most important thing she did and that co-founding St. James School was a beautiful culmination of her life of service.
As the news of Dr. Evans’ death is beginning to sink in around the world, I am filled with sadness and already miss her deeply. I am also filled with gratitude for the life of Dr. Audrey Evans. I learned so much from her and I thank God for her commitment to our partnership in building the Kingdom of God, feeding God’s lambs, and doing so with joy, love, and a smile.
In honor of Audrey, “let’s get on with it” and continue our work at St. James. Please join me in praying this prayer today:
Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding: Deal graciously with Audrey and her loved ones in their grief. Surround them with your love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord:
And let light perpetual shine upon her.
May her soul, and the souls of the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
– From The Book of Common Prayer
P.S. Ronald McDonald House Philadelphia and St. James School will be hosting a Celebration of Life for everyone to attend to honor all aspects of Dr. Evans’ life and passions. I will send another email soon with information regarding the Celebration of Life as well as Dr. Evans’ funeral. We know that a Requiem Mass will be celebrated at Saint Marks Church (Locust Street) and burial at the Churchyard of The Church of St. James the Less (St. James School).
If you wish to make a gift to St. James School in honor of Dr. Audrey Evans, click here. If you wish to make a gift to the Dr. Audrey Evans Family Support Fund at Ronald McDonald House Charities, visit RMHCphilly.org/DrEvans.