Feast Day : March 3
Katharine Drexel was born November 26, 1848, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second child of Francis and Hanna Drexel. Francis Drexel was a wealthy railroad tycoon and founder of a Philadelphia bank. A month after her birth, her mother died, and Katharine and her sister, Elizabeth, were cared for by their aunt and uncle. In 1860, their father married Emma Bouvier. A third daughter, Louise, was born in 1863. The girls were well-educated and traveled throughout the United States and Europe. They assisted their stepmother in charitable service for the poor. Even at a young age, Katharine was drawn to the religious life, and at age 14 took a vow to remain chaste. By her late teens she was mortifying herself at Lent; she practiced self-flagellation throughout her life. Katharine was 21 when Emma developed cancer, and she nursed her stepmother for three years of intense suffering until she died. During this time, Katharine was further inspired to become a religious. Katharine’s father died of pleurisy in 1885, and she and her sisters inherited large fortunes: $14 million in trust each, generating annual incomes of $400,000. Katharine used her money to build and support schools and missions for Native and African Americans When Katharine asked Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878– 1903) to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor, the pope suggested that she herself become a missionary. In 1889, she made her novitiate with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh. She visited the Dakotas, met the chief, and in 1891, founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, now known as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini advised her on getting the order recognized by the Vatican. Katharine pursued her ministry, receiving requests for sisters from throughout the South and Southwest. She built and maintained missions and schools and sent her nuns to staff them. In 1894, she helped to open the first mission school for Indians, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1917, she founded a school to prepare teachers in New Orleans, which in 1925 became chartered as Xavier University. It is the only predominantly black Catholic university in the United States. Katharine suffered a heart attack in 1935 but continued to travel to her missions, taking an active interest in the work of each one. By 1942 she had a system of 40 mission centers, 50 Indian missions, black Catholic schools in 13 states, and 23 rural schools, in addition to Xavier University. She kept up continual correspondence with all of them, usually including in her letters a generous check. During the last years of her life, Katharine was an invalid, spending much time in prayer and meditation. By the time of her death in 1955, she had spent $20 million of her inheritance for the American Indian and black American missions. She died March 3, 1955, at the age of 96, of natural causes. She is interred in a crypt at the motherhouse in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. More than 4,000 people have attributed miraculous cures and favors to her intercession. In 2000 Katharine became the second American-born person to be canonized; the first was St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in 1975. The two miracles accepted by the Vatican that were attributed to her intercession were the curing of deafness in two persons, a 17-month-old boy who had been born with nerve deafness, and a seven-year-old deaf girl.