Katharine Drexel


As I’ve mentioned before, I seem to have a patriotic fondness for American saints. I learned of Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) last year from Saint of the Day and not only was she born in the USA (in Pennsylvania, one of my favorite states), but lived a life that leaves me in awe and inspiration.

Born into prosperity in a family of a railroad baron, Drexel learned charity in her childhood when her family opened their home to the poor several days per week. On the suggestion of Pope Leo XIII, Drexel became a missionary to the Indians in the Dakota territory, dedicating much of her family fortune to the cause, while taking up voluntary poverty for herself. After taking her vows, Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored.

Drexel and her order dedicated themselves to education for the underprivileged founding more than sixty schools and missions for Indians and African-Americans across the United States. This includes Xavier University in New Orleans in 1925, the first institution of higher education for a predominately black student body. Founded by a woman, and a Catholic sister, and a saint. That just wows me. The fact that she did this during the time of segregation facing strong opposition including having one her schools burned makes it all the more impressive.

For her last two decades, Drexel was crippled by illness, but used that time well for prayer, contemplation, and writing. She died in 1955 at the age of 97. Katharine Drexel’s canonization in 2000 was celebrated in her native Philadelphia suburbs.

PS: Sorry to backdate this but I wanted the post to coincide with Katharine Drexel’s actual feast day.