St Katharine Drexel (1858 -1955)
Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858. Her father, Francis Anthony Drexel, was a business partner of financier J.P. Morgan. Her mother, Hannah Jane Drexel, died a month after Katharine’s birth. In 1860, her father married again, to Emma Bouvier. In addition to their great wealth, her parents were known for their philanthropic endeavors.
Drexel was raised as a young heiress in Philadelphia, and was educated at home. However, having traveled throughout the United States, she was aware of the difficult circumstances faced by Native Americans and African Americans across the country. Drexel—who lost her stepmother in 1883 and her father in 1885—wanted to use her inherited wealth to help these groups including several schools.
During a trip to Europe in 1887, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to recommend a religious order that could send missionaries to the institutions she was funding. He suggested that Drexel might undertake the missionary work herself.
In 1889, Drexel entered religious life as a novice under the training of the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She took her final vows in 1891. With the help of a few other nuns, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The order would use Drexel’s fortune to fund its work.
Drexel and 15 of her fellow sisters set up a school for Native Americans in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1894. This was followed by the creation of other schools throughout the Southwest, including ones on reservations. Drexel’s order also opened many schools for African-American children. She founded a secondary school for African Americans in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1915. Ten years later, the institution became Xavier University.
Drexel died at the age of 96 on March 3, 1955, in Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania. During her life she had given approximately 20 million dollars to help people in need. Drexel’s order had more than 500 members at the time of her death. With her assistance, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament had opened 145 missions, 49 elementary schools and 12 high schools. Today, the order continues its missionary and educational work.
Katharine Drexel was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
Quote : “The patient and humble endurance of the cross – whatever nature it may be – is the highest work we have to do.” St. Katherine Drexel
Compiled by Cheryl Sim
Created by Ethan Tan