St. Katharine Drexel, the second named saint born in the United States, is a U.S. missionary who believed everyone deserves access to good education. She is the patron saint of philanthropy and racial injustice.
St. Katharine was born in 1858 into a wealthy family. Her mother sadly died only five weeks after. Her Father remarried when she was 2 years old, and Katharine and her older sister became siblings to a third baby girl in 1863.
As children, the three sisters were given an impressive education. They had private tutors in their home and traveled often throughout the United States and Europe in order to learn geography first hand, which was something their father felt was very important. St. Katharine’s step mother, Emma, felt that it was important for the girls to learn to help others, and so several times a week they would distribute essential items from their home to the poor, especially widows and single mothers in need. On top of this, Katharine saw both her father and step mother’s devoutness to daily prayer. These events shaped the saint that Katharine Drexel grew up to become. After the death of her father, Katharine and her sisters inherited an immense fortune. However, Katharine had no interest in money. Watching her step mother suffer from cancer led her to realize that money could not end suffering, and her travels through the US gave her the chance to see first hand the horrors of poverty and the oppression of people of color. With these experiences,she knew that she was being called to help those in need. She spent much of her time under spiritual guidance that would eventually lead her to enter religious life.
A trip to Europe and an audience with Pope Leo XIII would change the course of St. Katherine Drexel’s life forever. She came to him with her concerns of the injustice of Native Americans and African Americans, and in turn she was challenged to make a difference. Pope Leo XIII reminded her that “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And so Katherine set out to devote her life to helping others and became a missionary. She wrote “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.”
In 1889, St. Katharine Drexel went to Philadelphia to join the Sisters of Mercy as a novice. After taking her final vows in 1891, She, along with others, began the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She took the name Mother Katherine and dedicated her life to her mission.
Some of St. Katherine Drexel’s greatest accomplishments include financing mission work for Native American tribes in Arizona and New Mexico, distributing Catholic doctrine to Navahoe people, founding Xavier University in New Orleans (which is still to this day the only historically black and Catholic university), and by the time of her death, had over 500 sisters teaching in schools. The following hymn is recited on the Feast Day of Saint Katherine Drexel at her shrine at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
“All praise and thanks to the Most Blessed Trinity,
the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
We honor you when we acclaim all those
who share your life in eternal glory,
our Mother Mary, all the angels and saints.
We come before you, Father, in your Holy Spirit,
as we follow the way of your Son, Jesus,
to ask the heavenly aid of Saint Katharine Drexel.
Her sacred relics in this Mother Church
remind us that she is numbered among the Saints in heaven.
Your divine grace led Saint Katharine Drexel
to give herself completely over to your service in the Church
in imitation of the poor Savior, attending to the least,
as a virgin foundress and a laborer for the justice of the Gospel.
Her strength, virtue and fortitude came from her unwavering devotion
to the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament.
Hear us now, we pray, as we bring to you our many prayers, petitions and intentions
through the intercession of Saint Katharine Drexel.
Pause for the silent mention of prayers, petitions and intentions.
O holy and Triune God,
our faith fills us with confidence as we bring our many needs to you,
trusting in the unfailing assistance of those in your everlasting company,
most especially our Philadelphia Saint.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
St. Katherine Drexel died on March 3, 1955. She was beatified in 1987, and St. John Paul II canonized her on Oct. 1, 2000. Her feast day is celebrated on March 3.
Sock Religious offers saint products to further explore St. Katherine Drexel’s story. Check out St. John Paul II products, who canonized St. Katherine, as well as St. Joseph products, whose feast helped guide Saint Katherine towards her mission of aiding those suffering oppression.
St. Katherine Drexel, pray for us!