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St. Katharine Drexel

St. Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 26, 1858, and died in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania on March 3, 1955. She is the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Sister for Indians and Colored People (now Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament), dedicated to the welfare of American Indians and African Americans. She was canonized on October 1, 2000, and she is the patron saint of racial justice and philanthropists.

Katharine Mary Drexel was the daughter of American banker and philanthropist Francis Anthony Drexel, and Hannah Langstroth Drexel, who died five weeks after Katharine was born. In 1860, Francis Drexel married Emma Bouvier, and in 1863 a daughter, Louise, was born. The three children were raised in a home of deep faith and love. The family was active in charitable works, and distributed food, clothing, and money from their home twice a week. When Katharine was twenty-one, her stepmother was diagnosed with cancer, and Katharine nursed her through three years of intense suffering. During this time, the thought of religious life came to her constantly and forcibly.

Mr. Drexel died in 1885. By the terms of his will Katharine and her sisters were, during their lifetime, beneficiaries of the income from his estate. With her two sisters, she visited American Indian reservations to see conditions and needs. She began to build schools on the reservations, supplying food, clothing, furnishings, and salaries for teachers. She found priests to serve the spiritual needs of the people. As she became aware of the suffering of the Black people of the South and East, she extended her charity to them.

In 1889 she obtained Bishop O’Connor’s consent to become a religious. On November 7, 1889, she received the religious habit and the name Sr. Mary Katharine. At Bishop O’Connor’s death, Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan of Philadelphia became her spiritual guide.

In 1935, Mother Katharine suffered a severe heart attack, and for the next twenty years lived in prayerful retirement. Her interest and love for the missions deepened, until her death on March 3, 1955. She is interred in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. At the time of her death, she had used more that $12 million of her inheritance for her charitable and apostolic missions. Today, that would equate to $125 million.


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