Faithful Heroes: Katherine Marie Drexel, used her wealth to help the Natives

Katharine Drexel is the first person born as a citizen of the United States to have been canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

She was born Catherine Mary Drexel on November 26, 1858 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Francis and Hannah Langstroth Drexel. Sadly, she never really knew her mother, who died five weeks after her birth.

Catherine and her sister, Elizabeth, lived in upper class society and were educated at home. When their father married Emma Bouvier, a third sister, Louisa, joined the family.

The daughters learned from the example of their father and stepmother to give back to others and to assist the poor, while drawing closer to God through their endeavors.

Watching her stepmother battle cancer for three years, was a life changing lesson that even money could not protect us from pain or death. She decided to live a life of service.

Katharine Drexel

She was reminded of the plight of the Native Americans, from travels the family made. She decided to make it her lifelong mission to support missionaries in the United States.

When their father died in 1885, he left a considerable estate. Katherine spent time seeking spiritual direction from her priest who encouraged her to “wait and pray”.

In January 1887, the three sisters had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. Katherine was already considering marriage proposals she had received.

Pope Leo XIII suggested Katherine become a missionary. After prayer and consultation with her priest, she made the decision to completely give herself to God. She entered the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Pittsburg in May 1889.

Mother Katharine Drexel

The Philadelphia Public Ledger carried a banner headline: “Miss Drexel Enters a Catholic Convent—Gives Up Seven Million”.

She took her first vows on February 12, 1891, taking the name Mother Katharine, and dedicated her life to assisting the American Indians and African Americans in the southwest and western states of the United States.

Mother Katharine began her own order. After receiving numerous request, she and her order, opened a boarding school in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1897.

Over the years, Mother Katharine staffed a Navajos mission, financed work with the Pueblo

Katharine Drexel

Native Americans,and financed printing of a book for the Navajos children. Eventually, she established 145 missions and 62 schools for either Native Americans or African Americans. She also was instrumental in the founding of Xavier University of Louisiana.

After suffering a heart attack in 1935, she stepped down from the active leadership of her order.

Mother Katharine Drexel died on March 3, 1955 at the age of ninety-six.

Pope John Paul II oversaw the process of having her declared a saint.

Her feast day is celebrated on March 3rd.

 

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