Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic Church
Who is St. Katharine Drexel?
Katharine Mary Drexel was born in Philadelphia on November 26, 1858, the second child of Francis A. and Hannah Langstroth Drexel. Mrs. Drexel died five weeks after Katharine’s birth. For two years, Katharine and her older sister Elizabeth were cared for by their aunt and uncle. In 1860, Mr. Drexel married Emma Bouvier, and in 1863 their daughter Louise was born. The Drexel home was filled with faith and love.
Katharine, Louise and Elizabeth Drexel
As the girls grew up, they helped their mother teach Sunday school. They also helped her with her service to the poor. They were taught by tutors. The family traveled extensively in the United States and Europe. Both parents instilled in their daughters the idea that their wealth was simply loaned to them and was to be shared with others.
When Katharine turned 21, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Katharine was her caregiver through three years of her mother's severe suffering. During this time, she was filled with thoughts of religious life. After her mother died, she wrote her spiritual advisor, Bishop James O’Connor of Omaha, Nebraska. Bishop O’Connor was a family friend. She asked him about the call to religious life. He advised her to “Think, pray and wait.”
A short time after the death of her mother, Katharine and her sisters took a trip to Europe, during which she had an audience with Pope Leo XIII. Having heard and read much about the plight of the Native Americans in Wyoming and the Dakotas, Katharine asked Pope Leo XIII if he could help send more priests to serve as missionaries. His answer marked a defining moment in her life: “Why not, my child, become a missionary yourself?”
In 1885, Katharine’s father died. Under the terms of the will, Katharine and her sisters became beneficiaries of the income of his estate. She and her sisters became aware of the plight of the American Indians. They visited reservations throughout the West to see what the living conditions were and to determine the needs of the people. She began building schools on the reservations, and provided food, clothing and other material needs. She paid the salaries of the teachers. She found priests to provide spiritual guidance.
Then, she became aware of the living conditions of the Black people in the South and East. She began to provide them with assistance as well. The plantation at that time was an entrenched social institution in which black people continued to be victims of oppression. This was a deep affront to Katharine's sense of justice. The need for quality education loomed before her, and she discussed this need with some who shared her concern about the inequality of education for Afro-Americans in the cities. Restrictions of the law also prevented them in the rural South from obtaining a basic education.
About one-and-a-half years later, she pronounced her vows as the first Sister of the Blessed Sacrament. With 13 companions she moved to her family’s summer home in Torresdale, Pennsylvania.
In 1892, her congregation moved to St. Elizabeth’s Convent in Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania. For forty-four years she led the congregation.
In 1889, she received Bishop O’Connor’s consent to become a religious. She wanted to be a cloistered sister. He wanted her to form an order to minister to Blacks and Indians. She was reluctant at first but finally accepted this as her vocation. On November 7, 1889, she received her habit and religious name, Sr. Mary Katharine.
The sisters began their missionary work with the opening of a boarding school for Black Children. Then, they opened a school for Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. As the years went on, more schools were opened in the East Midwest, South and West. In 1902, St. Michael's School on the Navajo Indian reservation was established.
In 1917 a school to train teachers opened in New Orleans. In 1925, that school was chartered as Xavier University, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans.
In 1935 Mother Katharine had a serious heart attack. She spent the next 20 years in prayerful retirement.
She died on March 3, 1955. She is interred in the crypt of the Motherhouse Chapel in the St. Katharine Drexel Shrine.
March 3 is recognized by the Church as St. Katharine’s Feast Day.
The process of canonization of Mother Katharine Drexel was begun in December 1964, when John Cardinal Krol officially introduced her cause in Rome. However, in order to be canonized the Church requires proof of at least two miraculous cures due to the intercession of the candidate.
John Cardinal Krol by Philip Pearlstein
On October 1, 2000, Katharine Drexel was Canonized by Pope John Paul II
Katharine Drexel was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1980 and became known as "Blessed Katharine Drexel".
Miracle Number One
In 1974 when Robert Gutherman was 14 years old he suffered a severe ear infection that destroyed the three bones in his right ear that are necessary for hearing. Not only did he suffer great pain, he found that he had completely lost hearing in that ear. His family began to pray to Katharine Drexel for relief of his pain. Several months later, after an unsuccessful surgery, the doctors found that not only had the three bones been fully restored, but he also had regained his hearing. Medical experts called the cure medically unexplainable and, in 1988, Pope John Paul II accepted the cure as the first miracle attributed to the intervention of Katharine Drexel.
Robert Gutherman and Pope John Paul II
Miracle Number Two
Amy Wall was born in 1992 with nerve deafness in both ears that was considered incurable. Amy's family began praying to Blessed Katharine Drexel in November 1993, after learning that prayer to Blessed Katharine lead to the miraculous restoration of hearing to Robert Gutherman. In March 1994, a pre-school teacher noticed a change in Amy's responses and the little girl was given new hearing tests. She was found to have normal hearing in both ears. On Jan. 27, Pope John Paul II accepted Amy's cure as attributable to St. Katharine and began the process for her canonization.
The Canonization was attended by 150 of our parishioners.
St. Katharine's work for the poor and marginalized continues through the religious order she created;
the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
We have two of the Sisters working with the poor in local Belle Glade, Florida.
Half of the donations made to our Poor Box go to help Sister Laura Cavanaugh and Sister Ann Meehan in their ministries.
Sr. Laura Cavanaugh with Glades Kids
Sr. Anne Meehan with a Belle Glade resident
Amy Wall with Pope John Paul II
The Mission Center and National Shrine in Bensalem, PA also has an online gift shop!