The daughter of one of the wealthiest men in America, Katherine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1858. While visiting Europe, Katherine worked to recruit priests and religious to minister to Native Americans, and it was during this trip that Pope Leo XIII suggested that Katherine herself become a missionary. The following year, she established schools in the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, California, Oregon, and New Mexico.
In 1889, Katharine entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy, and in 1891 she professed her vows as the first member of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. Opening a novitiate in Philadelphia, she received twenty-one new sisters in the first year. The new community’s first mission was in New Mexico. Following the death of her father in 1901, Katherine and her sister each received an inheritance amounting to one thousand dollars a day. Other missions and schools soon followed, including Xavier University in New Orleans. Pope Saint Pius X approved the Rule of the Congregation in 1907, and Katherine used her tremendous inheritance to subsidize the works of her community.
Following a heart attack in 1935, Mother Drexel was forced to return to the motherhouse, where she dedicated the remainder of her life to prayer and contemplation. Katherine Drexel died on March 3, 1955, and was canonized in the year 2000.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.” As a young woman, Katharine Drexel saw the divisions that existed between the different ethnic groups and cultures within the United States. She saw that too many women, men, and children, were living without those things that we all need to live full and healthy lives: food and water, education, adequate shelter and clothing, meaningful work, and opportunities to celebrate our faith. She dedicated her life to serving those on the margins of American society, making the corporal and spiritual works of mercy the touchstones of her life of ministry and prayer.
Take time today to consider how you are living a spirituality of the Eucharist—a sense of giving all that you have and are for the sake of others, just as Jesus gives all of himself to and for us in the gift of the Eucharist. Ask Saint Katharine Drexel to help you be more aware of the needs of those on the margins, especially those who suffer racial, gender, educational, and economic discrimination. Resolve to make these final days of Lent a time for you to promote true justice for all.
God of love,
you called Saint Katharine Drexel
to teach the message of the Gospel
and to bring the life of the Eucharist
to the Native American and African American peoples;
by her prayers and example,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and the oppressed,
and keep us undivided in love
in the eucharistic community of your Church.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)
This article was originally written for Aleteia.org and posted on their website on March 3, 2016.