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KATHERINE DREXEL

MONASTIC, 1955

 
Katharine Drexel, (November 26, 1858 – March 3, 1955) was an American heiress, philanthropist, religious sister, educator, and foundress. She was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2000. She was the second canonized saint to have been born in the United States and the first to have been born a U.S. citizen.

Private tutors educated Katherine and her sisters at their home. As a young and wealthy woman, Drexel made her social debut in 1878. However, watching her stepmother's three-year struggle with terminal cancer taught her the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death. Her life took a profound turn.

When her family traveled to the Western states in 1884, Katharine Drexel saw the plight and destitution of the Native Americans. She wanted to do something specific to help. Thus began her lifelong personal and financial support of numerous missions and missionaries in the United States.

In January 1887, the sisters were received in a private audience by Pope Leo XIII. They asked him for missionaries to staff some Indian missions that they had been financing. To their surprise, the Pope suggested that Katharine become a missionary herself. Although Drexel had already received marriage proposals, "…after consultation with her spiritual director, Bishop James O'Connor, she made the decision to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to American Indians and Afro-Americans."

On February 12, 1891, Drexel professed her first vows as a religious, dedicating herself to work among the American Indians and African-Americans in the western and southwestern United States.She took the name Mother Katharine, and, joined by thirteen other women, soon established a religious congregation, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

Requests for help and advice reached Mother Katharine from various parts of the United States. After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns opened a boarding school, St. Catherine's Indian School, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In all, Drexel established 145 missions, 50 schools for African Americans, and 12 schools for Native Americans. Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically black Catholic college in the US, also owes its existence to Drexel and the Sisters.

Mother Katharine Drexel died at the age of 96, on March 3, 1955, at her order's motherhouse in Cornwells Heights, Pa., where she was buried.