Katharine Drexel

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St. Katharine Drexel

Born(1858-11-26)November 26, 1858
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMarch 3, 1955(1955-03-03) (aged 96)
Bensalem, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
BeatifiedNovember 20, 1988 by Pope John Paul II
CanonizedOctober 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II
Major shrineCathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, [Philadelphia, U.S.
FeastMarch 3
The entrance to the shrine of Katherine Drexel in Bensalem, Pennsylvania

Katharine Drexel, SBS (born Catherine Mary Drexel; November 26, 1858 – March 3, 1955) was an American Catholic religious sister, and educator. In 1891, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious congregation serving Black and Indigenous Americans.

Canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000, Drexel was the second person born in what is now the United States to be declared a saint and the first who was born a U.S. citizen.

Early life[edit]

Drexel was born Catherine Marie Drexel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858, to Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Langstroth. She had an older sister, Elizabeth.[1] Her family owned a considerable banking fortune. Her uncle, Anthony Joseph Drexel, was the founder of Drexel University in Philadelphia.[2] Katharine's mother Hannah died five weeks after her birth, and Anthony Joseph and his wife Ellen cared for Katharine and Elizabeth for the next two years. Her father married Emma Bouvier in 1860, brought his older children home, and had a third daughter, Louise, in 1863.[1]

The girls grew up in a wealthy and religious household with charitable principles. Emma regularly distributed food and clothing at her home to people.[3]

The family lived on a 90-acre estate in the Torresdale section of Philadelphia was named St. Michel in honor of Saint Michael, the archangel.[4] James O'Connor was pastor of St. Dominic's in the nearby Holmesburg section of Philadelphia, and served as chaplain to the Society of the Sacred Heart at their motherhouse at Eden Hall in Torresdale, where Katharine's maternal aunt was mother superior.

In 1876, James O'Connor was appointed vicar apostolic of Nebraska, an area that covered Nebraska, northeastern Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of Utah, Montana, and the Dakotas. He was consecrated titular Bishop of Dibona at the chapel at Eden Hall.[5] Katharine was awakened to the plight of indigenous American people during a family trip to the Western United States and was inspired.

Religious work[edit]

In these early years, Drexel traveled extensively, both in her home country and abroad. In 1886, during an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she was urged to become a missionary and to realize her desire to assist the Indian and African American population in the country.[2][6] In 1889, Katharine Drexel fulfilled that wish by entering a convent of the Sisters of Mercy and in February 1891, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People.[2] Drexel decided to establish the congregation to address the needs of Native Americans and African Americans in the southern and western United States, as well as the poor black communities. She served as first Superior General of the congregation and held that position until 1937, when illness made it necessary that she retire from active administration.[6]

An appeal by the late Archbishop James H. Blenk brought Mother Katharine to New Orleans in 1915 to open the way for the education of the black youth in the city.[6] This led to the purchase of the old Southern University site, and establishing Xavier High School, later known as Xavier Preparatory School. She financed more than 60 missions and schools around the United States, as well as founding Xavier University of Louisiana[7] – the only historically Black and Catholic university in the United States. She financed Mother Loyola, the blood sister and successor of foundress Lucy Eaton Smith of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de' Ricci, to care for Afro-Cuban children in Havana, Cuba during and after the Spanish–American War. The children had been orphaned by the war, and no other church or government entity was willing to support them because they were children of color. In 1942, the Republic of Haiti acknowledged her with the Honneur et Merite Medal and the following year, she was recipient of the Sienna Medal for the most distinctive contribution to Catholic life in the United States.[6]

Other honors included the DeSmet Medal from Gonzaga University, Spokane, Wash., 1938; the Catholic Action Medal from the Knights of Columbus, Santo Domingo Council, Philadelphia, 1938; and an award and scroll by the Catholic Committee of the South, 1942.[6]

Beatification and canonsiation[edit]

Katharine Drexel's tomb at Philadelphia Cathedral

Drexel was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988, when her first miracle through prayer—healing the severe ear infection of teenage Robert Gutherman in 1974—was accepted.[8] She was canonized on October 1, 2000,[9] when her 1994 miracle of reversing congenital deafness in 2-year old Amy Wall was recognized.[10]

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;
  • her efforts to achieve quality education for all;
  • and selfless service, including the donation of her inheritance, for the victims of injustice. (She is known as the patron saint of racial justice and of philanthropists.)[11]

Her feast day is observed on March 3, the anniversary of her death. She was buried in Cornwells Heights, Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania.

The Saint Katharine Drexel Mission Center and National Shrine was formerly located at St. Elizabeth's Convent in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. The Mission Center offered retreat programs, historic site tours, days of prayer, presentations about Saint Katharine Drexel, as well as lectures and seminars related to her legacy. The convent was subsequently sold and in August, 2018, Drexel's remains were transferred to a new shrine at the.Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

A second-class relic of Drexel can be found inside the altar of the Mary chapel at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, North Carolina,[12] and in the Day Chapel of Saint Katharine Drexel Parish Archived July 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine in Sugar Grove, Illinois.

Numerous Catholic parishes, schools, and churches are dedicated to St. Katharine Drexel.



Schools St. Katharine Drexel founded or funded include (but are not limited to):

  • Xavier University of Louisiana
  • St. Benedict the Moor School
  • Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, Beaumont, Texas
  • Sacred Heart Catholic School, Port Arthur, Texas.
  • St. Joseph Indian Normal School, now called Drexel Hall, on the campus of St. Joseph's College, Rensselaer, Indiana. The Indian Normal School operated from 1888 to 1896. A school for boys, the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative indicates children were "taken" from reservations in order to matriculate here. See page 350 of cited source.[16]
  • St. Michael Indian School, serving grades K–12 in St. Michaels, Arizona
  • St. Mark School, the first in New York City for African-American Catholic children
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and School, Founded 1912, Atlanta, Georgia
  • St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church and School, Founded 1932, Nashville, Tennessee
  • St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish was founded in 1893. St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament opened St. Ignatius of Loyola School in 1926. The school moved to its current facility in 1967 in Philadelphia.[17]
  • St. Emma's Industrial and Agricultural Institute (later St. Emma Military Academy for Boys) founded on the Belmead Plantation near Powhatan, Virginia in 1897
  • St. Francis de Sales School for Girls founded on the Belmead Plantation near Powhatan, Virginia in 1899
  • St. Peter Claver Catholic School in Macon, Georgia, in 1913 with the help of Bishop Benjamin Kiely and Father Ignatius Lissner.
  • Kate Drexel Industrial Boarding School, on the Umatilla Reservation in Pendleton, Oregon. Operated from 1847 to at least as late as 1929. See page 185 of cited source.[16]
  • St. John's School for Osage Indian Boys, Blackburn, Oklahoma. Operated from 1888 to 1913, reportedly at the request of the Osage Nation. See page 347 of cited source.[16]
  • St. Mary's Indian Industrial School, on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. Operated from 1884 to 1910. See page 359 of cited source.[16]

Schools named in her honor include:

Churches and chapels[edit]

The choir loft window in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Sioux, Saint Joseph's Indian School, Chamberlain, South Dakota, was donated by the Drexel Family.


Drexel Avenue, Oak Creek, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. (Drexel Towne Centre, Oak Creek, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Francis Anthony Drexel marries Hannah Langstroth". Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c Hoy, Suellen (2004). "Lives on the Color Line: Catholic Sisters and African Americans in Chicago, 1890s-1960s". U.S. Catholic Historian. 22 (1): 67–91. ISSN 0735-8318. JSTOR 25154892.
  3. ^ "The Other Drexel: Louise Drexel Morrell". Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. April 9, 2010. Retrieved January 3, 2023.
  4. ^ "St. Katharine Drexel". Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  5. ^ "San Francisco Call 28 May 1890 — California Digital Newspaper Collection". cdnc.ucr.edu. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Mother Katharine Drexel Devoted 65 Years of Life to God and Man". The Xavier Herald. March 1, 1955. p. 1. Retrieved July 31, 2023.
  7. ^ "XU Quick Facts". Xavier University of Louisiana. Retrieved December 13, 2010.
  8. ^ "This Man's Ear Was Miraculously Healed, Thanks to St. Katharine Drexel". NCR. March 30, 2017. Retrieved January 2, 2023.
  9. ^ "Saint Katharine Drexel | Franciscan Media". www.franciscanmedia.org. March 3, 2022. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  10. ^ "Pope declares miracle, clears way for sainthood Girl's cure is 2nd to be attributed to Mother Drexel". Deseret News. January 29, 2000. Retrieved January 2, 2023.
  11. ^ "Katharine Drexel". www.vatican.va. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  12. ^ "St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church, Raleigh, North Carolina". Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  13. ^ "St. Katherine Drexel Parish, Cape Coral, Florida". Archived from the original on July 31, 2021. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  14. ^ "St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish". St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Parish. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  15. ^ St. Joseph's Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, Columbia, Virginia Archived 2014-07-11 at archive.today, richmonddiocese.org; accessed October 19, 2014.
  16. ^ a b c d Profiles bia.gov
  17. ^ "History". Archived from the original on October 1, 2022. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  18. ^ Pope, John (July 10, 2011). "Xavier University chapel will 'create an air of beauty and mystery'". Times Picayune. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  19. ^ Star, David Leighton For the Arizona Daily (March 4, 2014). "Generous nun the namesake for Drexel Road". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  20. ^ "FLP – Katharine Drexel Branch". Free Library of Philadelphia.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]