This Saturday, March 3, will be the feast day of a quite notable American Saint, Katherine Drexel. She was born in 1858 to wealthy parents in Philadelphia. Her mother died while Katherine was still an infant. Her father, a partner in an international banking empire, was a devout Catholic and a philanthropist. After a few years, he married Emma Bouvier. Both raised Katherine and her two sisters in the Catholic faith, teaching them the value of sharing their wealth with the poor. They were given a good education and were taught common household tasks even though there were servants to do the domestic work. They also were part of high society's social life.
After the death of their parents the Drexel girls were left with excellent financial means. Their father, having left a large sum to charity, made sure that his daughters had an estate which then amounted to $1,000.00 per day each. Having once traveled through the Midwest and western US, Katherine saw the destitute lives of the American Indian. She used a great deal of her wealth to establish schools for Indians and for Blacks in several states. Through her urging, the bishops established an office for Black and Indian Missions.
She received a vocation to the religious life and entered the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh. She had an additional calling to serve the Blacks and the Indians. Before God, she pledged all that she had — her life, her love, her fortune, her hopes — and all that she would ever have to Him and to the Black and Indian peoples. She became the first Sister of the Blessed Sacrament for these people. Other Sisters of Mercy joined her. They established schools for black children throughout the South as well as schools of higher learning. By 1942 she and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament established 30 convents, 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Overall, by this time, over $11 million had been used to further the education of blacks. Missions spread to Boston, New York, Chicago, Mexico and other places. She suffered a severe heart attack in 1935 and remained ill for the next 20 years until her death.
As we continue our spiritual journey this Lent, it would be well worthwhile to think about the life of this great Saint. She teaches us that true riches do not lie on the earth but rather consist in doing whatever God's will is. She might have been happy following the lifestyle of others in her society as a young lady, but she was immensely overjoyed leading the life that God had asked of her.