St. Kathrine Drexel

Friends in Christ,
Today is the feast of St. Katharine Drexel.[i] St. Katharine is only the 2nd American-born saint. She was born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia in 1858,  she traveled quite a bit, and had an excellent education.  But at one point in her young life, she watched as her stepmother suffered with a long illness. As she cared for her, she saw that even all their money could not buy health or save a person from death.  She thought about her life, and what she could do with it.   

Katharine liked to read, and because of this, she had read about all the problems facing the American Indians out west. One time she made a trip to Europe, and was able to meet Pope Leo XIII.  She asked him, ‘Holy Father, could you please send more missionaries to Wyoming to help the Indians there?’ The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?”  His answer made her think very deeply,  and so back home, she visited the Dakotas,  met the Sioux leader, Red Cloud  and began doing all she could to help the Native American missions.   

Katharine could easily have married.  But after much thought, she decided to dedicate her life to helping the Indians as well as the African Americans.  A newspaper headline exclaimed:  ‘She gives up 7 million dollars to help the poor!’   

After three and a half years of training, she and her first group of Nuns opened a boarding school in Santa Fe.  Her sisters were called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for the Indians and the Colored. By 1942 she had a system of African American Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools.  Segregationalists harassed her work,  even burning a school in Pennsylvania, but she persevered.  

In all, she established 50 missions for Native Americans in 16 states. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first university for African Americans.    

At age 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire to a quiet life of meditation, she died at age 96. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her prayers and ceaseless aspirations; she was canonized a saint in the year 2000.  

St. Katherine saw that she had but one life to live, and she found a way to make it a gift to God by helping those in need.   


[i] Mostly taken from ‘Saint of the Day,’ by Leonard Foley.

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