St. Katharine Drexel is one of those saints I feel I should know more about. I know she was American, but beyond that, nothing. Finding out that she was only the second American born, following Elizabeth Ann Seton, saint was interesting. Honestly, my first thought was, where are all of the good Catholic Americans? On to Katharine's story. Her life began in an unusual way. She was born to a rich Philadelphia family, but shortly after her birth, her mother died. Her father sent baby Katharine and her sister to an aunt and uncle until he was remarried. Katharine's step-mother was kind and generous. They passed out food and monetary assistance from their home, but when there were those in need that were to proud to come and receive the help, they quietly went to their aid. Katharine's step-mother instilled in the children the concept that "Kindness may be unkind if it leaves a sting behind." Katharine's step-mom died from terminal cancer, her struggle leaving a profound impact on Katharine. After reading A Century of Dishonor, and traveling west seeing the plight of the American Indian, Katharine made helping them her life long goal. Katharine had an inclination to join a contemplative order, but her friend and spiritual director instructed her to wait and pray. During this time she visited the Pope and asked him to staff some of the missionaries she had been funding with missionaries. She decided to join a religious order, which rocked the upper class Philadelphia social circles she had previously been part of. Along with 13 other women, she started the order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Mother Katharine, as she was known, was always fighting for social justice, which kept her fairly controversial for a nun. The sisters opened and staffed many schools for American Indians and Black Americans, crossing many social and political barriers. She suffered a heart attack in 1937 which gradually led to her death. The last 3 years of her life were spent in Eucharistic adoration.
The Vatican cited a fourfold legacy of Drexel:
- A love of the Eucharist and perspective on the unity of all peoples;
- courage and initiative in addressing social inequality among minorities - one hundred years before such concern aroused public interest in the United States;
- her belief in quality education for all and efforts to achieve it;
- and selfless service, including the donation of her inheritance, for the victims of injustice.