02 March 2016

St. Katharine Drexel


Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia in 1858, into a very wealthy and prominent family, which meant that she had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But her life was radically changed when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, and she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death.

She had read a book about the plight of the American Indians, and how difficult their lives were. Once, when she was on a tour of Europe, she met Pope Leo XIII and she asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming, where a family friend was the bishop. The pope said to her, "Why don't you become a missionary?" His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.

When she returned to America, she visited the Dakota Indian tribe, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Native American missions.

She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O'Connor, she wrote in 1889, "The feast of Saint Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored." Newspaper headlines screamed "Heiress gives Up Her Millions!"

After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of African American Catholic schools in thirteen states, plus forty mission centers and twenty-three rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established fifty missions for Native Americans in sixteen states.

Two saints met when she was advised by Mother Cabrini about the "politics" of getting her order's rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first university in the United States for African Americans.

At seventy-seven, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost twenty years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at ninety-six and was canonized in 2000.
- from various sources

O God of love, who didst call Saint Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to the Native American and African 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 family of thy Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.