Woman of Grace: St. Katharine Drexel

Woman of Grace: St. Katharine Drexel (1858 – 1955)

It’s only fitting that as we march forward in the battle for religious freedom, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Feast of St. Katharine Drexel, a pioneer of civil rights and activism.

St. Katharine Drexel was a pioneer in more ways than one. Born on November 26, 1858 to a wealthy family in Philadelphia, Katharine and her siblings were “home-schooled” by tutors, giving the family the opportunity to travel abroad. Her parents Francis and Emma instilled in her a generous nature and a deep faith both through word and example. In fact, several times a week, the family would open their home to the poor of their area providing food and material support.

It was during her mother’s illness that Katherine first heard the calling to the religious life. She was also compelled by a deep concern for black and native Americans. Thanks to the encouragement of Pope Leo XII and Bishop O’Conner, she eventually entered the religious life and founded a community that was dedicated to the service of black and native Americans, activities which were downright scandalous at the time.

But she forged on, a true pioneer for civil and minority rights.

In addition to founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Black and Native American peoples, she dedicated her life, from the age of 33 until her death in 1955, and a fortune of $20 million to this work. In 1894, Mother Drexel took part in opening the first mission school for Indians, in Santa Fe, New Mexico and other schools quickly followed. In 1915, she also founded Xavier University in New Orleans.

At the time of her death, there were more than 500 Sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988.

“God’s will – peacefully do at each moment what at the moment ought to be done.”

St. Katharine Drexel, pray for us!

Faith in Action

St. Katharine Drexel had a burning desire to help those considered by the culture of her time to be the least among us.  During this Lenten season, what can you do to assist the poor, the lonely, the sick, the dying or the unborn? Make a resolution today to incorporate at least one of the corporal works of mercy into your Lenten journey.

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