Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6 - Katharine Drexel, Missionary, Educator, Champion of Civil Rights


Katharine was the daughter of a wealthy Roman Catholic banker--Francis Anthony Drexel--and his wife--Hannah Jane Langstroth Drexel--in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Francis was a noted philanthropist who was convinced that the most appropriate use of money was to help those in need and to use it as a tool to expand the Kingdom of God. He lived out this idea and taught it to Katharine as she grew. Though Hannah Jane died when Katharine was only five years old, Francis remarried. Her father's outspoken philanthropy and commitment to taking care of not only his family but, also, other families. When Katharine was a young woman only beginning to consider the question of calling, her father took her on a trip to the Western United States of America. She enjoyed the trip but it also sparked something within her that would burn for many years to come.

She saw poverty and oppression among the Native Americans in the Western United States of America. Her father had always been one to crusade against poverty but he had kept her in a degree of comfort that exceeded the average for Philadelphia. When she had the opportunity to look into the faces of the poor it changed her life and she felt a calling being born within her to take care of those whom God had brought her to. When she had received her education and prepared for the calling God had placed upon her life she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and started a school--St. Catherine Indian School. In this place, she teachers offered a priceless gift with no strings attached: education. It was her conviction and confidence that education was the beginning of the way out of poverty for the Native American children near Santa Fe. When her school proved not only successful but liberating, she received an audience with the Pope--Leo XIII--in Rome. She asked for the Pope to appoint missionaries to help staff the school she had started. Leo's response was to agree but also to suggest that she become a missionary. She did so gladly and willingly.

Shortly before the 19th century became the 20th, Katharine officially became a missionary and founded a group called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. They spread out from Santa Fe and used nearly all of Katharine's considerable inherited wealth (somewhere near $20 million) to found more and more schools. Katharine added speaking on racial issues and civil rights questions to her teaching task. The schools that were opened were targeted to the disenfranchised and racially segregated. Through Kathrine's work an leadership, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament grew to 63 schools and five hundred sisters by the time Katharine died in 1955. In 2000, she was finally canonized by Pope John Paul II.

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