St. Katharine Dexel, the Patron Saint of St. Katharine Drexel School, was an American Religious Sister, heiress, philanthropist, and educator, later canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint.
St. Katharine Drexel – Our Patron Saint
St. Katharine Drexel was born on November 26, 1858 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Frances Anthony Drexel and Hannah Jane Drexel. Her mother died 1 month after she was born. She had 1 older sister named Elizabeth. Katharine’s father married her step mother, Emma, and gave her a younger sister, Louise.
Her father was a wealthy banker who instilled in his daughters the idea that their wealth didn’t belong to them. It was loaned to them and it needed to be shared with others. They were also a very socially prominent family. They were deeply religious Catholics and held Sunday school classes for African American children in their home.
Katharine was 3 years old when the Civil War started. She grew to maturity in the shadow of the pain of the war. Katharine did not attend a regular school. She was educated at home by a tutor. Katharine’s family traveled all over the United States. On a trip to the West coast, she saw the plight of Native Americans. She felt called to help them. When Katharine’s parents died, she inherited millions of dollars which she gave to the poor.
When she met with Pope Leo the 13th, he recommended that she become a missionary. She took his advice and at age 33, in 1891, founded the order of sisters called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. These sisters were entirely devoted to the care of African Americans and Native Americans. They provided for the physical, spiritual and educational needs of the poorest of the poor. They shared the message of the gospel and the Eucharist. They also visited people in hospitals and prisons.
The first school that Sr. Katharine established was St. Katherine’s School for Native Americans in Sante Fe New Mexico. In all, she and her sisters established and staffed 60 schools and missions in the West and Southwest parts of the United States.In 1925, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament established Xavier University in Louisiana. It is the only Roman Catholic University established for African American students.
The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are known for their four fold dynamic legacy.
Number 1 - Love for the Eucharist
Number 2 - Addressing social inequalities among minority people.
Number 3 - The importance of a quality education for all.
Number 4 - Total giving of oneself including material goods and service to victims of injustice.
Sr. Katharine suffered a heart attack in 1935 at the age of 77. For the next 20 years, she was unable to continue her hard work for the poor. She changed the focus of her life from service to adoration, prayer and contemplation. During these 20 years, she wrote several books on prayer.
Sr. Katharine died on March 3, 1955 at the age of 97.
Her Feast Day is celebrated on March 3rd.