The Story of Saint Katherine Drexel
Katherine Drexel was a woman born into a prominent, wealthy family that choose to use her earthly inheritance for heavenly good. She became the second American-born citizen to be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in part because of her mission work to Native Americans and African Africans.
An Unusual Childhood
Born on November, 26, 1858 to a well-known banker, Francis Anthony Drexel, Katherine was raised by her stepmother, Emma, after her mother passed away soon after Katherine’s birth. While growing up, she was educated by private tutors, and she learned about the world around her by traveling abroad with her parents.
However, the wealth that enable her to receive a private education and travel did not give her a need to live lavishly. Instead, she grew up watching her devout religious parents practicing their faith through prayer and through charitable giving. Her parents frequently gave needed items to the poor – even seeking them out instead of waiting to be asked.
Finding Her Calling
After watching her beloved stepmother suffer from terminal cancer, Katherine began to take more interest in the needs of others. Around this time, Katherine read Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor and later visited the Western states where she saw firsthand the plight of Native Americans. All of these events lead to Katherine’s increased desire to help the Native Americans financially and to introduce them to the Good News.
Upon her father’s death, Katherine received a large inheritance. One of the first donations she made with this inheritance money was to the St. Francis Mission of South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation. Then, in 1887, Katherine and her sisters met with Pope Leo XII to ask for missionary help for the Indian missions they were supporting financially. Pope Leo XII suggested that Katherine become a missionary herself.
After this meeting, Katherine entered the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Pittsburgh in 1889. Then, on February 12, 1891, she made her first vows and dedicated herself to working for American Indians and African Americans. She moved into St. Elizabeth Convent in Bensalem, Pennsylvania in 1892 where she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament boarding school for African American children on the property.
From this point on, Saint Katherine Drexel helped establish 63 schools throughout the United States and 50 missions for Native Americans. One of these is Xavier University in New Orleans – the first Catholic university for black students. Today, her mission is still preserved in 21 states, Haiti, and Jamaica.
Her fervor for the Lord and her desire to help others guided her mission. She dedicated her inheritance and her life to serving poor Native Americans and African Americans through the Sisters of Blessed Sacrament. Her strong stance against social inequality within minority groups led to her personal beliefs that all should have access to quality education. Her beliefs guided her mission and people are still benefitting from it today.
To learn more about Saint Katherine Drexel’s life and mission, please see Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and National Shrine or Saint Katherine Drexel.