On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1858, Katharine Mary Drexel’s mother died five weeks after giving birth, leaving Katharine and her older sister. Her father, an extremely successful investment banker, remarried when Katharine was around two. A third sister came along soon. The girls were tutored at home but traveled extensively as well. Katharine and her sisters learned kindness early as the Drexel family distributed food, clothing, and money for shelter to the poor three times a week from their own home. If widows or others in need were too proud to come to their home for assistance, Katharine’s father and stepmother would quietly seek them out and offer them help.
As a young, wealthy woman, Katharine made her social debut in 1878, but she knew money could not buy happiness or safety from sorrow. She had seen her kind stepmother fight and succumb to cancer. A book she had read about the plight of Native Americans greatly affected her. She wanted to do something to help them. When her family visited the West in 1884, she saw firsthand the suffering of Native Americans and was determined to take action. She and her sisters donated money to various missions. After their father’s death in 1885, they contributed to the St. Francis Mission on a reservation in South Dakota. Katharine asked her spiritual director about possibly joining a contemplative community of nuns, but he advised her to wait and pray. In the meantime, she had many young men interested in marrying her.
In 1887, the three sisters had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII while visiting Rome. They asked the Pope to send missionaries to help the Native Americans. The Pope asked Katharine to become a missionary herself. So, upon returning to Philadelphia, she asked her spiritual director for guidance. He then encouraged her to become a religious.
She decided to give herself and her inheritance totally to God in service of the Native Americans and African Americans. She and thirteen volunteers began the Blessed Sacrament Sisters. Their desire for social justice was not easily received and, when building their Motherhouse, dynamite was planted nearby to frighten the Sisters. Still, Katharine was undeterred.
Requests for help started pouring in from all over the country. In response to these requests, Mother Katharine Drexel established 145 missions, 50 schools for African Americans, and 12 for Native Americans. Her desire to help the poor rejoice in the Lord continued until she died at the age of 97. Her Order’s work continues today.
St. Katharine Drexel is today’s Ornament of Grace.
OBSERVING THE BEAUTIFUL ORNAMENTS
- How can you use what you have been given to bring hope to those in need?
- What are some ways you have found joy in listening to and answering the Lord’s call?