History of Saint Katharine Drexel

Saint Katharine Drexel

St. Katharine Drexel was born November 26, 1858 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  She died on March 3, 1955.  March 3 is now her feast day.  St. Katharine Drexel was the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters for Indians and Colored People, now known as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  They are a congregation of missionary nuns dedicated to the service of indigenous peoples of the Americas and African Americans.  She is the patron saint of racial justice and of philanthropists.

Mother Katharine was the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia financier and philanthropist, Francis Drexel and his wife, Hannah Langstroth Drexel.  Hannah Drexel died just five weeks after giving birth to Katharine.  Francis Drexel remarried and his new wife, Emma Bouvier, a devout and pious woman, had a significant impact on Katharine’s spiritual development.

At the death of her father, Katharine and her siblings, Elizabeth and Louisa, became very wealthy, inheriting their father’s fortune.  As a child traveling through the United States with her family, Katharine was moved and disturbed by the poverty and poor treatment inflicted upon the indigenous and black people.

In 1887, Katharine Drexel had an encounter with Pope Leo XIII which changed the course of her life.  On a visit to Europe with her sisters, in an audience with the Pope at the Vatican, Katharine addressed the great need for the Church to minister justly to the Indians and Colored people in the United States.  Pope Leo XIII challenged Katharine to do something about it.  In essence, she was encouraged to exercise her baptismal call to lay down her life for her friends, her sisters and brothers all made in the image and likeness of God, and to serve them as she would Jesus.

In 1889, Sr. Katharine became a novice with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and in 1891, she took her final vows, and with several companions began the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  The community received final papal approval in 1913.

Mother Katharine built many churches and schools on reservations throughout the Mid-West and in predominantly Black communities in the South.  One significant achievement to higher education is Xavier University of Louisiana, which remains the nation’s only Catholic Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

St. Katharine Drexel was canonized in Rome on October 1, 2000 by Pope St. John Paul, II.  She remains an ardent intercessor and inspiration for the Black Catholic community in the United States.