Saint of the Day – 3 March – St Katharine Drexel S.B.S (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament) (1858-1955-AGED 96) – was an American heiress, philanthropist, religious sister, missionary, educator, and foundress. She was canonised by the Roman Catholic Church in 2000; her feast day is observed on March 3. She is the only canonised saint to have been born a United States citizen – Patron of Philanthropy, racial justice
Francis A. Drexel, a world-renowned banker and a man of faith, provided his family a life of ease. And Emma Bouvier, her stepmother, trained Katharine and her two sisters in generous giving. Mrs. Drexel believed God gave wealth to the family to aid others and regularly involved her daughters in distributing food, medicine, clothing and rent money to the poor. The experience shaped Katharine’s future.
As a rich girl, Katharine also had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death and her life took a profound turn. Both parents died by 1885, leaving Katharine and her sisters to share the annual income from a fourteen-million-dollar estate. Right away Katharine began to donate thousands of dollars to the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions for the construction and staffing of schools for Native American children, which became her life’s passion. Katharine had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by what she read in Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonour. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.
Back home, Katharine visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions.
At this time, however, Katharine’s spirit was in turmoil. Bishop James O’Connor, her spiritual director, thought she should remain a single woman serving in the world. But she wished to become a contemplative nun. “My heart is very sorrowful, she wrote him in 1886, because like the little girl who wept when she found that her doll was stuffed with sawdust and her drum was hollow, I, too, have made a horrifying discovery and my discovery like hers is true. I have ripped both the doll and the drum open and the fact lies plainly and in all its glaring reality before me: All, all, all (there is no exception) is passing away and will pass away.”
In 1891, Katharine resolved the tension by founding a new religious community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Coloured People, that combined prayer and social action. By 1904, 104 sisters had joined her. After three and a half years of training, Mother Drexel and her first band of nuns–Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Coloured–opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942, she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states.
Two saints met when Mother Drexel 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 Catholic university in the United States for African Americans.
Katharine established 145 Catholic missions and twelve schools for Native Americans and fifty schools for blacks. During her lifetime she gave away about twenty million dollars, mostly for these causes.
In 1935, Katharine suffered a severe heart attack. Two years later she retired and got her heart’s desire—eighteen years of quiet contemplation before she died in 1955 at age ninety-six.