Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

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The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (SBS) are a Roman Catholic order of nuns. They were founded in 1891 by Saint Katharine Drexel as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. They are a Catholic charitable institute. During her life, Saint Katharine used approximately $20 million of her personal fortune to fund SBS-staffed schools for Native Americans and African Americans.

Crypt for "Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People" in Saint Louis Cemetery #3, New Orleans.



The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884), which at the time was the meeting of all Roman Catholic bishops in the United States, renewed the vigor for missionary work among the "Colored and Indian races". Katharine Drexel and her sisters were some of the many who took up the call, using their vast wealth inherited from their father, Francis Anthony Drexel, to finance schools and missions for African- and Native-American children. (They received monthly dividends from his multifaceted investments.)

She and her sisters would eventually travel to Rome to ask Pope Pope Leo XIII for missionaries to staff the institutions they were funding, but the Pope instead asked her to become a missionary herself. She eventually obliged, shocking her family, high society, and the world.[1]


Archbishop James O'Connor of Omaha, acting alongside Drexel, decided, with the approval of Archbishop P. J. Ryan of Philadelphia, to form a new congregation on behalf of Native Americans and African Americans. For some years previous to this step, Miss Drexel had been very active in re-establishing and supporting schools in many of the Indian reservations.[2]

The first sisters, including foundress Katharine Drexel, entered religious life under the tutelage of the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were also inspired by O'Connor, who served as Drexel's spiritual director until his death. In 1889, after completing a two-year novitiate to learn the foundations of religious life and upon first profession of vows, these sisters were clothed in the habit of the new congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament of the Indians and Colored People. Drexel was installed as their first superior.[2]

The order was headquartered at their longtime motherhouse, St. Elizabeth's Convent in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania.[3]

After this, they continued their period of preparation in the old Drexel homestead, in Torresdale, Philadelphia. Early in 1892 a mother-house and novitiate were opened at Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania, adjoining which was erected a manual training and boarding school for African-American boys and girls.[2] In June 1894, four sisters set out for Santa Fe, New Mexico to reopen St. Catherine Indian School.[4]

Major works[edit]

In 1915, Drexel founded Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, initially a high school (accredited in 1921) that became a university in 1925. It remains the only Catholic HBCU and is still staffed in part by the SBS sisters.

The sisters have collaborated with the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, the Commission for the Catholic Missions among the Colored People and the Indians and other Catholic institutions.

Death and canonization of Mother Katharine[edit]

Drexel died in 1955, and at the time the order had over 500 members.[1] Because her father's will stated that his daughters' inheritance should go to their children—or else to his other chosen charitable causes—upon their deaths, the SBS sisters no longer had a lofty stream of income after Mother Katharine's passing. (The SBS sisters were not on her father's list of recipients, having been founded well after his death.)[1]

She was entombed in a crypt in the chapel until the entire crypt was moved to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.[5] The motherhouse was then made up of the motherhouse of retired nuns and the location of Saint Katharine Drexel Mission Center and National Shrine. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.[6]

Drexel was canonized in the year 2000.

21st century[edit]

In 2017, due to a lack of members and money, the sisters moved out of St. Elizabeth's Convent and sold the property.[7] However, the shrine remains active and is now managed by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.[8]

As of 2018, there were about 100 Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, more than half of whom are retired.[9]



Primary and secondary schools[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Barraza, Vincent. "LibGuides: Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament: St. Katherine Drexel". Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  2. ^ a b c Mercedes, Sister. "Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 13 August 2019Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ ""National Historic Landmarks & National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania"" (Searchable database). CRGIS: Cultural Resources Geographic Information System. Note: This includes Sr. Mary Ellen Quilty and Sr. Elise Sisson with Charles Cromartie (July 1976). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: St. Elizabeth's Convent" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-29.
  4. ^ "Timeline", Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
  5. ^ Babay, Emily; O'Reilly, David (May 4, 2016). "Bensalem shrine to St. Katharine Drexel to be sold". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  7. ^ Stockman, Dan (2018-02-15). "St. Katharine Drexel's order advances property sale plan". Global Sisters Report. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  8. ^ Ciavaglia, Jo. "St. Elizabeth Chapel on Drexel property saved". The Intelligencer. Retrieved 2021-03-20.
  9. ^ Stockman, Dan. "St. Katharine Drexel's order advances property sale plan", Global Sisters Report, February 15, 2018

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

External links[edit]