Catherine Mary Drexel, Apostle of the American Indians

On October 1, 2000, St. John Paul II canonized Katharine Mary Drexel (Katharine Drexel), an American nun who dedicated her life to the Native American apostolate.

Paloma López Campos-March 3, 2024-Reading time: 2 minutes
St. Catherine Mary Drexel

Stained glass window depicting St. Catherine Mary Drexel (Wikimedia / Nheyob)

On November 26, 1858, a wealthy banker and his wife had a baby girl in Philadelphia, USA. On that day, they could not even have guessed that years later that girl would be Saint Catherine Mary Drexel, canonized by the Pope John Paul II What was so special about that woman's life?

The girl who was born into this well-to-do family learned the importance of generosity at an early age. Her father and his second wife (Catherine's mother died shortly after the saint's birth) exercised a powerful charitable work with the poor of the city. Catherine and her sisters became involved in the works of their parents, while growing in faith.

When the couple passed away, not many years between one death and the other, Catalina inherited a large fortune. At the age of 33, she decided to continue the Drexels' charitable work, dedicating all her money and her life to those who needed it most.

Foundress of a Congregation

On a visit to Rome, she asked Pope Leo XIII to send more missionaries to America, in order to help the American Indians. However, the Pontiff asked her affectionately if she did not want to be a missionary herself. When she returned to the United States, Catherine joined the Sisters of Charity.

Shortly thereafter, in February 1891, she founded her own congregation: the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and People of Color. As the sisters explain on their website, their mission is "to share the message of the Gospel with the poor, especially among black and indigenous peoples, and to challenge all forms of racism, as well as other deep-seated injustices in the world today".

Catalina Drexel was the general superior of the congregation until 1937, when she had to step back for health reasons. She dedicated all her years at the head of the Religious of the Blessed Sacrament to founding schools for the Indians and blacks in various parts of the country. She also collaborated in the opening of universities and the foundation of convents.

St. Catherine's health deteriorated after a heart attack. She retired from the intense activity of the Congregation for twenty years and died at the age of 96 in 1955. Forty-five years later, Pope St. John Paul II beatified. The Polish Pontiff said of St. Catherine Drexel that "she is an excellent example of practical charity and generous solidarity with the least favored".

Catalina Drexel's current legacy

Because of her work, Catalina Drexel received several awards in her lifetime, such as the DeSmet Medal, a medal from the Knights of Columbus and an award from the Committee of Southern Catholics.

As part of his legacy today, Xavier University Preparatory is still active. In addition, many churches and chapels are placed under his special protection and bear his name, such as several parishes in Florida, New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

St. Catherine Mary Drexel photographed in the 1910s (Wikimedia)
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