St. Katherine Drexel

Feast Day March 3rd

Patron Saint of racial justice, of the oppressed, and of philanthropists

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the 26th of November 1858, Katharine was the second daughter of Francis Anthony Drexel, a wealthy banker, and his wife, Hannah Jane. The latter died a month after Katharine’s birth, and two years later her father married Emma Bouvier, who was a devoted mother, not only to her own daughter, but also to her two step-daughters. Both parents instilled into the children by word and example that their wealth was simply loaned to them and was to be shared with others.

Katharine was educated privately at home; she travelled widely in the United States and in Europe. When she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. She became aware of the plight of the Native and African Americans; when she inherited a vast fortune from her father and step-mother, she resolved to devote her wealth to helping these disadvantaged people. In 1885 she established a school for Native Americans at Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Later, during an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked him to recommend a religious congregation to staff the institutions which she was financing. The Pope suggested that she herself become a missionary, so in 1889 she began her training in religious life with the Sisters of Mercy at Pittsburgh.

In 1891, with a few companions, Mother Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. The title of the community summed up the two great driving forces in her life—devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and love for the most deprived people in her country.

Requests for help reached Mother Katharine from various parts of the United States. During her lifetime, approximately 60 schools were opened by her congregation. The most famous foundation was made in 1915; it was Xavier University, New Orleans, the first such institution for Black people in the United States.

In 1935 Mother Katharine suffered a heart attack, and in 1937 she relinquished the office of superior general. Though gradually becoming more infirm, she was able to devote her last years to Eucharistic adoration, and so fulfil her life’s desire. She died at the age of 96 at Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania, on 3 March 1955. Her cause for beatification was introduced in 1966; she was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on 26 January 1987, by whom she was also beatified on 20 November 1988.


Intercessory Prayers to St. Katharine Drexel

Ever loving God, you called Saint Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to African American and Native American peoples.

By her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and oppressed. Draw us all into the Eucharistic community of your Church, that we may be one in you.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayers by St. Katharine Drexel

Prayer and Work

The active life to be productive must have
contemplation. When it (contemplation) gets
to a certain height it overflows to active life and
gets help and strength from the heart of God.
This is the way the saints produced so much
fruit, and we’re all called to be saints.

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Devotion to Mary

Teach me, O my dear Mother, the lesson of sacrifice.
Help me, Mother, to take from the hands of Jesus, in
the spirit of humble love, devotion to my daily crosses.
– St. Katharine Drexel

Closing Prayer

I wish to be one who conscientiously takes
part in the unfolding of God’s plans, and
eventually have a glorious part in the final
unfolding of time into the glory of God’s
Kingdom in heaven. If we are disciples
we shall be happy to spend ourselves
and be spent for the salvation of souls.