Saint Katherine Drexel
By Gloria Barboza
Saint Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 26, 1858 to Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Langtsroth. Her family owned a considerable banking fortune and her Uncle Anthony Joseph Drexel was the founder of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Katherine’s mother, Hannah, died 5 weeks after her birth. For two years their aunt and uncle, Ellen and Anthony Drexel, cared for Katherine and her sister, Elizabeth. When Katherine’s father married Emma Bouvier in 1860 he brought his two daughters home. A third daughter, Louise, was born in 1863. The children grew up in a loving family atmosphere, premeditated by deep faith. The girls were educated at home by tutors. They had the added advantage of touring parts of the United States and Europe with their parents. By word and example Emma and Francis taught their daughters that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. Three afternoons a week Emma opened up the doors of their home to serve the needs of the poor. When the girls were old enough they assisted their mother.
Katherine became imbued with love for God and neighbor; she took an avid interest in the material and spiritual wellbeing of black and Native Americans. She began by donating money but soon concluded that more was needed; the lacking ingredient was people. Katherine took religious vows and now carried the name Sister Katherine. She dedicated herself and her inheritance to the needs of oppressed native and African Americans. She was a vocal advocate of racial tolerance. She established a religious congregation, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, for black and Native Americans. She also financed more than 60 missions and schools around the United States and founded Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historical black Roman Catholic university in the United States to date. At her death in 1955 there were more than 500 sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country. Drexel was beautified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988 and was canonized on October 1, 2000. She is one of only a few American saints. The Vatican sighted a fourfold legacy of Drexel: a love of the Eucharist and perspective on the unity of all peoples; courage and initiate in addressing social inequality among minorities; her efforts to achieve quality education for all; and selfless service, including the donation of her inheritance for the victims of injustice. Katherine is known as the patron saint of racial justice and of philanthropists. Her feast day is observed on March 3rd, the anniversary of her death. She is buried in Corn Wells Heights, Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania.
When Father Landry asked that the parish family celebrate our 100-year anniversary by selecting a saint and reflecting on that saint’s life, I believed I had plenty of time to select a saint that I was familiar with. To my surprise when I was able to review the list, the saints I had some knowledge of were already chosen, so I randomly chose Katherine Drexel. To my surprise nothing is ever left by chance when it comes to God. As I began to research saint Katherine I found out that I already knew her spiritually, without knowing of her. I too, like Katherine, was privileged to be raised by two of the most loving, selfless, God loving parents. My parents not only taught us always to keep God in the center of our lives but they also led us by example. We were not well off financially but as children we never knew it because our family was wealthy with love, compassion, and service to others.
Till this day even with my father’s passing, I have people who come up to me and say how generous my father had been to their families. My parents taught my brothers, sisters and me that there is always something that we can do to spread Christ’s kingdom here on earth. My parents always welcomed all people into their home, regardless of race. They taught me to see Christ in all people, young, old, black, white, rich and poor, and that God loves each and every one of them and is calling all of us to spend eternal life with our Him in heaven. My parents’ teaching influenced my life in many ways. I knew I wanted to serve people in the medical field so I became an occupational therapist. When I treat my patients I do not look at them as being old, black or white, broken hipped or stroke victims; I look at them as God’s children and ask God to work through my hands to serve them. My love for people is not only demonstrated in my line of profession but also in my personal life. My husband is an African-American and has always been welcomed by my family with open arms. My parents have always treated him with respect and dignity, and in return my husband demonstrates unconditional love toward my parents. I too have tried to teach and lead my children by example.
My youngest daughter, Sarah, at age five had asked me if she could give the money she had saved in her Cinderella bank to help the poor. I was very pleased and absolutely agreed. Ever since then Sarah eagerly collects soda cans from all family events and cashes them in to donate to the Catholic Charities Appeal. My two oldest daughters and I also participate in sponsoring a less fortunate child every month. Saint Katherine and my family share the common ground that God loves each and every one of us, regardless of how we look or where we come from. It is our duty and responsibility to help our brothers and sisters here on earth to achieve the greatest give of all: eternal life with our heavenly Father.