Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint of the Week: St. Katharine Drexel
Our Saint of the Week this week, as we continue our diocesan Year of the Eucharist, is the second American-born saint to be canonized: Saint Katharine Drexel. Not only is she a Eucharistic saint, but she is also a timely saint for our consideration right now given her life’s work of championing the rights of minority groups in the United States, especially African and Native Americans. And today, she is revered as a patron saint of racial justice.
She is also a patron saint of philanthropists, insofar as she herself and her father before her were fantastically wealthy and equally charitable and philanthropic in their giving. After her father died but before she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she and her two sisters inherited the father’s vast fortune, which adjusted for inflation amounted to almost half of a billion dollars. As their father was extraordinarily generous with his wealth, so were the three sisters with their equal shares of the inheritance. Saint Katharine herself, after founding her order, used the vast portion that was her share to start schools and colleges for African and Native Americans throughout the nation.
Her upbringing in Philadelphia was the genesis for her own work in later years. She grew up seeing her father pray for thirty minutes each evening. Each week, the family opened their doors to house and care for the poor. They distributed food and clothing, and they provided financial assistance to those in need of help with rent. The Drexel family would seek out and visit women who were too afraid or too proud to approach the home in order to care for their needs in Christian charity.
In 1884, while they were visiting the Western states, Saint Katharine saw first-hand the very poor and troubling situation of the Native Americans, and she desperately wanted to help them. After her father died (her mother had died years before), in January 1887, she and her two sisters were received in a private audience by
Pope Leo XIII
. They asked him for missionaries to staff some Native American missions that they had been supporting financially. To their surprise, the Pope suggested that Saint Katharine become a missionary herself. Although she had already received marriage proposals, after consultating with her spiritual director, Bishop James O’Connor, she made the decision to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to the Native American and African American peoples. Her decision rocked Philadelphia social circles. Indeed, the
Philadelphia Public Ledger
carried the headline: “Miss Drexel Enters a Catholic Convent—Gives Up Seven Million.”
Saint Katharine died on March 3, 1955, at the age of 96. The last twenty years of her life had left her very infirm due to a heart attack she suffered, but even her enfeebled body did not prevent her from traveling all over the nation to continue the good work of her Order. In all, she had established one hundred forty-five missions, fifty schools for African Americans, and twelve schools for the Native Americans.
Xavier University of Louisiana
, the only historically black Catholic college in the US, also owes its existence to her holy work.
Upon her beatification and canonization, The
cited fourfold aspects of her legacy: a love of the
and the Sacrament’s effect on the unity of all peoples; courage and initiative in striving to address social inequality among minorities (one hundred years before such concern at last became of public interest in the United States): her belief in quality education for all and efforts to achieve it; and her selfless service, including the donation of her inheritance, for the victims of injustice.
Saint Katharine Drexel…pray for us.
~ Fr. Lewis
on Thursday, August 27 at 2:00PM