St. Katharine Drexel was born on November 26, 1858. Her family was wealthy and well-connected, and they used their status to provide for the less fortunate.
Three times a week, Katharine’s mother opened their home to the poor, and her father spent much time in prayer. They encouraged their daughters to think of wealth as a gift from God to be used for others. In the summer, Katharine and her sisters taught catechism classes to the children of the workers on their summer estate.
When she and her family traveled through the western United States, Katharine saw the poor living conditions of the Native Americans. And during a later visit to Rome, she was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII, which inspired her future work. Katharine had been considering a vocation to cloistered contemplative life as a nun. But when she asked the pope to send missionaries to Wyoming, he told her she should take on the work herself.
In February 1891, Katharine made her first vows in religious life. She formally renounced her inheritance and her personal freedom, and dedicated herself to the social and spiritual development of black and American Indian communities.
Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and began living and working in the poor communities of blacks and Native Americans, helping them acquire education and faith formation. Between 1891 and 1935, she founded almost 60 schools and missions in the West and Southwest, including New Orleans’ Xavier University, the only historically black Catholic college in the U.S.
In the last 20 years of her life, Katharine was forced into retirement after suffering a severe heart attack. Although she could not lead her order, she left her sisters with a deep concern and love for their mission.
Katharine died on March 3, 1955. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.