“Miss Drexel Enters a Catholic Convent—Gives Up Seven Million.”
Thus ran the headline of a Philadelphia paper when Katharine Drexel, heiress to a multi-million dollar estate, decided to give her life to the service of her Native and African-American brethren.
Katharine was born in 1858 to a wealthy banking family. Her mother died soon after her birth, and her father remarried in 1860. Her father and stepmother both set a noble example to their three daughters through a life of prayer and generosity to the poor.
While on a trip with her family out West, Katharine witnessed firsthand the terrible condition of the Native people. She also took note of the hardships endured by African-Americans, who struggled to find work, education, and fair treatment. She and her sisters dove wholeheartedly into supporting the missions that served these populations.
The sisters traveled to Europe in 1887 and, in a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, Katharine asked for missionaries for institutions they were supporting. The Holy Father suggested that she do the work herself.
That’s just what she did, starting her religious life with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh.
In 1891, she took her first religious vows, and with some other sisters founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Katharine took a fourth one: “To be the mother and servant of the Indian and Negro races.”
During her life, Mother Katharine founded dozens of missions and schools for black and Native Americans in sixteen states. Among them is Xavier University in New Orleans, the only historically-black Catholic college in the country.
Suffering a heart attack at age 77, Mother Katharine retired to a life of prayer and contemplation at her order’s motherhouse in Pennsylvania, which she called her “little Nazareth.” By the time of her death at age 96, her order had grown to 500 sisters and she had given away over $12 million of her fortune.
Mother Katharine’s devotion to the Eucharist encapsulated the spirit of total self-dedication that had characterized her life from start to finish. As she said:
“Ours is the spirit of the Eucharist—the total gift of self.”
She was canonized in 2000—the first natural-born U.S. citizen to become a saint.
St. Katharine Drexel’s tireless work was always fueled by prayer, the heart and center of the Catholic life. Join her in praying for our country—and remind yourself to do it every day with our exclusive God Bless America license plate. Perfect for the car or as wall décor! Featuring the bright colors of our beloved flag and an “American heartland” feel, this cheerful plate will remind you to entrust our country to God through the intercession of St. Katharine and our other American saints. Order yours today at The Catholic Company!