A missionary who dedicated her life and fortune to aid Native Americans and African Americans, Saint Katharine Drexel is only the second recognized American-born saint.
Saint Drexel was born into a prominent family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1858. Her mother died shortly after her birth, and her father remarried two years later, providing Drexel with a new mother. Drexel and her sisters were raised in a loving family atmosphere permeated by deep faith, and were taught that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need.
When Drexel was growing up, her family would open their home to serve the needs of the poor three days a week, and when Drexel was old enough, she learned to assist her mother. Later, when the family purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pennsylvania, Drexel began teaching Sunday school classes. It was there that she met Reverend James O’Connor, later the Bishop of Omaha, who became her spiritual director.
When Drrexel was in her twenties, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. Shortly thereafter in 1885, her father died suddenly, and Drexel and her sisters inherited the income from his estate. Throughout 1887 and 1888, Drexel was introduced to the plight of Native Americans and visited several remote reservations with Monsignor Joseph Stephan and Bishop O’Connor. After witnessing the poverty endured by Native Americans, Dreel began building schools and providing food, clothing and financial support to the reservations.
In 1889, Bishop O’Connor urged Drexel to found a congregation to work with Native Americans and African Americans. Although she initially hesitated, through prayer, Drexel eventually accepted this as her vocation and pronounced her vows as the first Sister of the Blessed Sacrament (1891). During her lifetime, Drexel and her order founded more than sixty missions and schools, including Xavier University of Louisiana. Today, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament remains a religious order devoted to the education and care of Native Americans and African Americans.
Saint Katharine was beatified in 1988, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.