Acta Sanctorum: St. Katherine Drexel (Mar 3)
March 03, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

Life (1858-1955)

When he declared her “Blessed” in November 1988, Pope John Paul II praised Mother Katharine Drexel for her untiring efforts to uphold the dignity of America’s two most underprivileged minorities, the Blacks and the Indians. Because she had expended her own funds for this purpose, he compared her to Christ, who as St. Paul wrote, “made Himself poor though He was rich,” so that others might “become rich by His poverty.”,

Who was this woman whose beatification was attended by 1000 United States pilgrims, among them many Blacks and Native Americans led by Black Bishop Joseph J. Francis of Newark, N.J and Indian Bishop Donald L. Pelotte of Galiup, N.M.? Who was this sister, the second native-born American to be declared “Blessed,” and at that only 33 years after her death?

Katharine Drexel was one of the three children - all daughters - of Philadelphian Francis Anthony Drexel. The name Drexel is still notable in the American world of finance. Francis Drexel, the descendant of Austrian forebears, was a colleague of J. Pierpont Morgan, and himself one of the leading United States stockbrokers. Despite their multimillions, however, Francis and his first and second wives were very devout Catholics, actively engaged in charities. Their three remarkable daughters, Elizabeth, Katherine, and Louise, followed the parents’ example in serving the needy.

The second Mrs. Drexel, Emma Bouvier, died in 1883, and Francis followed her in 1885. He left an estate of $15 million. One million he bequeathed to a Lutheran hospital and several Catholic institutions. The rest he put into a trust fund, the interest payable to his young daughters as long as they lived. After the death of the last heir, the principal was to be divided among the institutions that had received the $1 million in bequests.

Katharine had early become saddened by the wretched state of the Indians in the western states. During a private audience with Pope Leo XIII in 1887, she pleaded with him to provide missionary priests for these Native Americans. The pope replied, “Why not become a missionary yourself, my child?” This was not what she had meant, but the more she thought about his question, the more she felt it was a divine call.

In 1891, therefore, Katharine founded a religious order devoted to Eucharistic worship and to an apostolate restricted to American Blacks and Indians. She called it “Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored people.” It is interesting to note that when compiling her religious rule, she consulted with another American missionary nun, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.

We have not space enough to describe the many ingenious ways that Mother Katharine found to assist Indians and Blacks, working bravely against the discriminatory attitudes that even Catholics then had towards both races. Her chief thrust was educational. Today the order counts 360 members in charge of 13 social centers, 18 elementary schools, 3 high schools, and one outstanding university (Xavier University of New Orleans). A black sister now heads the order. Most of the funding for Blessed Katharine’s campaign came from her own patrimony. Since her two sisters had died without children by 1945, from then until her death in 1955 she was the sole recipient of the interest, although physical ailments after 1935 obliged her to promote her cause mostly by prayer. When she died at 96, the total amount she had spent was $14 million. Because she gave her annual income to charity, she was exempted from income tax by a special federal law that excused anybody who donated at least 90 percent to nonprofit organizations. Yet in her own life, this woman, born in the lap of luxury, adhered very literally to her vow of poverty.

Since Mother Katharine carefully avoided any personal publicity, she was little known to most American Catholics. But those who felt her helping hand bear witness to the impact she had on them and theirs.

“To many Blacks and Native Americans,” says Father Clarence Williams, president of the Black Television Network, “she is still the most important Catholic figure.” And retired Nurse Agnes Davis, who attended the Sisters’ St. Mark’s School in New York, asks, “What would we have done without her?” Agnes lovingly recalls how Mother Katharine, on visits of inspection, used to tell the African-American children, “Remember, you’re just as good as anybody!”

Pope John Paul II canonized Mother Katharine on October 1, 2000.

Saint Katharine Drexel is surely a woman for our country and our times!

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture: 2 Corinthinas 8:1-15

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

(Year A)  If we have died to self in life and lived in God's presence, and near Him and with Him, in union with Him in life, surely on that day when eternity shall commence to us, God's own beautiful life will glorify all our thoughts, words and actions because His Will and Light will appear in them and thus they will glorify Him for ever and ever. The splendor will not fade as do the golden tints of these clouds that pass when I am writing to you. Oh even now they have assumed a leaden hue and they appear but fleeting clouds! So will self-will, self-seeking, self-judgment be on our day of eternity. Let us do God's will and see God and God's judgment whilst traveling to eternity. Then we need not fear that only the fleeting clouds will remain in our thoughts, words and actions. All these will be laid up in Heaven as a treasure that will not fade.  (Letters).
Musical Selection
God of love,
you called Saint Katharine Drexel
to teach the message of the Gospel
and to bring the life of the Eucharist
to the Native American and African American peoples;
by her prayers and example,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and the oppressed,
and keep us undivided in love
in the eucharistic community of your Church.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.