03 March 2010

Saint Katharine Drexel

3 March 2010. Today is the feast day (optional memorial) of Saint Katharine Drexel, a prominent nineteenth and twentieth century American woman that gave away her wealth and founded a religious order to serve disadvantaged black and native Americans.

Saint Katharine Drexel was born into a prominent and wealthy family on 26 November 1858, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Imbued with a love of God and neighbor from an early age, Katharine took an avid interest in the spiritual and material well-being of black and Native Americans who suffered from great racial intolerance and social disparagement in her day.

Having grown up in a wealthy family, Saint Katharine was educated privately at home and traveled extensively throughout America and Europe. Even though her mother died a month after Katharine was born, her stepmother was loving and she and Saint Katharine's father instilled in her and the siblings that their wealth was merely on loan to them from God.

Through her travels, Saint Katharine became aware of the plight of black and native Americans. And, so, when Saint Katharine inherited a great sum from her father and stepmother, she resolved to use her fortune to help the plight of these disadvantaged souls. In A.D. 1885 Saint Katharine financed the opening of a school for native Americans in Santa Fe, New Mexico. However, the mere offering of her wealth was not enough. In an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked if there was a religious order that he would commend to staff and operate the institutions she was funding with her wealth. Instead, the Holy Father challenged Saint Katharine to herself become a missionary. And, so, she did.

In A.D. 1889 Saint Katharine began her training for religious life with the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia. In A.D. 1891, Saint Katharine and a few companions founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People.The title of the community summed up the two great driving forces in her life—devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and love for the most deprived people in her country.

From the age of 33 until her death in 1955, Mother Katharine and her order dedicated themselves to preaching the Gospel by their work on behalf of those in American society who were disadvantaged by the evil of racism and the ignorance of intolerance. During her lifetime, more than 60 schools were opened by Saint Katharine's order, including Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1915--the first Catholic institution of higher education for black people in the United States.

In A.D. 1935 Mother Katharine suffered a heart attack and in A.D. 1937 she relinquished her position as Superior General of the order. Though slowly becoming more infirm, Mother Katharine spent the remainder of her life devoted to Eucharistic adoration and seeing her order flourish in the fulfillment of her life's desire to love Christ by serving those most in need.

Saint Katharine died on 3 March 1955 at Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania. At her death, there were more than 500 sisters teaching in 63 schools founded by her order throughout the country. She was beatified by the great and Venerable Pope John Paul II on 20 November 1988, who also canonized Mother Katharine on 1 October 2000.


Ever-loving God, You called Saint Katharine Drexel
to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist
to the African American and Native American peoples.
By her prayers and example, enable us 

to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed,
and keep us undivided in love in the Eucharistic community of Your Church.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, 

who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 


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