A note     a song     erupts
within a world alive
enfleshed with sound     filled with silence

Breathe the wonder beauty of    
the silent stillness
and remain again captured
receptive of the hymn unheard …. invisible
be soul
a music score flamed
and forged by presence
more real than life itself -- for

Reality is    no more     no less a
silence masked in meaning
full and free and wild.

FrancisEmma, Inc. invites you, through this website, to walk gently into the silence of a sacred place. Listen attentively to the ever-emerging narrative that speaks through the Universe story, a story that is 15 billion years old.

We encourage you to look at the beauty of this holy space and ponder the history of the people who lived, worked, and learned on this land.

Finally, contemplate the wisdom of both the land and the people by entering into a story traced through time. Then, help create today’s story, thereby enriching the story we are to become.

Value Statements of FrancisEmma

FrancisEmma, Inc. acknowledges the power and beauty inherent in the story of the 2,265 acres of land entrusted to its care. We understand our role as special advocates for the sustainable environmental health of the land’s destiny as well as of our own. In view of this reality, we are called to:
  • Acknowledge the rights of all life forms in mutually supportive sacred communities.
  • Create an atmosphere that reverences natural, cultural, and historical heritages.
  • Partner with those who share the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament mission and vision.
  • Provide opportunity for youth and adults to experience the wonder of the Divine in the natural world.
  • Balance the financial needs of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament’s mission while maintaining the sustainability of the land.
FrancisEmma, Inc. is a nonprofit organization under the auspices of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

FrancisEmma, Inc. calls the human community to “witness to both Earth justice (Ecojustice) and social justice (human justice).

One thousand acres of land have been placed in a conservation easement.

In the 1890's St. Katharine Drexel and her sister, Louise Drexel Morrell founded
St. Francis de Sales and St. Emma Schools.

Remembering the Story of a Holy Space

The written narratives of St Francis de Sales and St. Emma run as deep as the currents of the James River and flow as energetically as the rushing waters of Deep Creek.

St. Francis de Sales at Mt.Pleasant and St. Emma at Belmead have a rich human history that includes Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans. They are places of past and present human activity. The mansion at Belmead is on the historic register, and St. Francis de Sales is in the process of obtaining this status. Both buildings are significant for groups of persons who have been connected through time to the land and the heritage that connects both sites.
The St Francis/St. Emma site, built in the 1890's, had two high schools, one for girls and one for boys. These two educational institutions influenced the lives of many African American woman and men.

The schools, located on adjacent plantations once owned by Philip St. George Cocke, a wealthy Virginia planter, crowned the top of a rolling hill overlooking the James River. The campuses were divided by Deep Creek and a dam which later provided electrical power to the entire campus. A bridge connected the two campuses.

St. Katharine Drexel, the foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, bought Mount Pleasant, to the east of Belmead. Hiring local workmen and using materials located right on the site, Katharine Drexel built St. Francis de Sales as a high school for young black women. The school opened in 1899. The early students’ educational backgrounds were quite diverse, and special classes were developed to prepare each student for high school. From the beginning, academic subject matter was emphasized, although the girls also learned home-making, sewing, and business skills. A nursing curriculum was offered as well. One of the greatest needs of American blacks at the time was for qualified teachers and a normal school curriculum to prepare the young women to become certified teachers.

By 1925, the comprehensive academic high school was accredited by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Music and literary skills were developed. Music students often played and sang at various functions in Richmond, even broadcasting over the radio. The St. Francis de Sales girls and the St. Emma cadets shared social activities. In later years, they shared classes and teachers.

Colonel Edward and Louise Drexel Morrell purchased Belmead in 1893. They created St. Emma Military Academy, a school for young black men, which opened in 1895. Every student had to take the basic academic curriculum. Then they had a choice of learning the latest agricultural methods or a marketable skill. Early offerings included animal husbandry, dairy management, crop rotation, tailoring,
shoemaking, carriage construction (later auto mechanics), carpentry, welding, etc. As a military school, the young men learned the discipline of army regulations and could earn promotions to new levels of officer training. Military drills, to which the girls of St. Francis de Sales were invited and in later years took part, were a major part of every special occasion.

The comprehensive plan of FrancisEmma, Inc. calls for the adaptive reuse of both sites consistent with the values of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and with an eye toward outreach for ministry and service in the surrounding communities.

For more information:

Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
The catholic order founded by St. Katharine and owners of the Belmead property for over 115 years.

St.Emma and St.Francis Alumni
Network of alumni who graduated from St. Emma and St. Francis

Belmead Stables and Riding Club
Belmead Riding Club maintains stables and trails on the Belmead property.

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