lundi 3 mars 2014

Sainte CATHERINE MARIE DREXEL, religieuse et fondatrice


Sainte Catherine Marie Drexel

Elle naquit à Philadelphie aux Etats-Unis, dans une famille fortunée et donna tout ce qu’elle possédait pour soutenir la population noire qui vivait dans un état misérable après l'émancipation des esclaves. Elle combattit les préjugés raciaux et, pour cela, et fonda les Sœurs du Saint-Sacrement pour les Indiens et les Noirs. A leur intention, elle ouvrit de nombreuses écoles dont la "Xavier University" ouverte aux Afro-américains à La Nouvelle-Orléans en Louisiane. Elle dut affronter courageusement les difficultés et les obstacles que lui valaient ses initiatives audacieuses. Elle mourut en 1955.


Sainte Catherine Marie Drexel

A Philadelphie aux Etats-Unis, fondatrice de la Congrégation des Sœurs du Saint-Sacrement ( 1955)

Elle naquit à Philadelphie aux États-Unis, dans une famille très riche et donna toute sa fortune pour soutenir la population noire qui vivait dans un état misérable après l'émancipation des esclaves. Elle combattit les préjugés raciaux et, pour cela, et fonda les Sœurs du Saint-Sacrement pour les Indiens et les gens de couleur. A leur intention, elle ouvrit de nombreuses écoles dont la "Xavier University" ouverte aux Afro-américains à La Nouvelle-Orléans en Louisiane. Elle dut affronter courageusement les difficultés et les obstacles que lui valaient ses initiatives audacieuses. 


Canonisée le 1er octobre 2000 par Jean-Paul II

- Xavier university of Louisiana - les Sœurs du Saint-Sacrement, congrégation fondée en 1891 - en anglais.


À Philadelphie, en Pennsylvanie aux États-Unis, en 1955, sainte Catherine Drexel, vierge, qui fonda la Congrégation des Sœurs du Saint-Sacrement et dépensa non seulement les biens qu’elle avait reçus en héritage, mais encore toutes ses forces, pour éduquer et aider les Indiens et les Noirs d’Amérique.


Martyrologe romain


Sainte Catherine Marie Drexel
religieuse, fondatrice, sainte


1858-1955

Katharine Drexel naît à Philadelphie (Pennsylvanie) en 1858. Son père, catholique, est banquier; c'est un millionnaire philanthrope. Sa mère, protestante, meurt peu après sa naissance, et son père se remarie. Dan sa famille, on lui enseigne que les biens dont ils disposent ne sont pas seulement pour eux, mais doivent être partagés avec les moins chanceux. Au cours d'un voyage en famille dans l'Ouest de Etats-Unis, elle est profondément émue par la pauvreté et les conditions dégradantes de vie des Peaux-Rouges et des Noirs (Afro-américains). Elle utilise alors sa fortune pour financer des œuvres et aider des missionnaires. En 1887, elle crée l'école Sainte Catherine, sa première école, à Santa Fe (Nouveau-Mexique). Elle est bien effleurée parfois par l'idée d'une vocation religieuse, mais la pensée de prendre l'habit et de renoncer au monde à jamais lui fait horreur. Au cours de l'un de ses voyages en Europe, elle va à Rome et expose la situation sociale à Léon XIII en lui demandant d'envoyer des missionnaires. Quelle n'est pas sa surprise quand le Pape lui demande doucement: "Et pourquoi, mon enfant, ne vous feriez-vous pas missionnaire vous-même?" La première réaction, après l'audience, est la colère. Sur le bateau du retour, son émotion n'est pas encore calmée. Elle projette d'en parler à l'arrivée à son directeur spirituel, l'évêque James O'Connor.

Cet événement constitue sûrement un tournant dans la vie de la bienheureuse Katharine. Avec un grand courage, elle place sa confiance dans le Seigneur et elle choisit de donner entièrement non seulement sa fortune, mais toute sa vie au Seigneur. En 1890, elle entre au Noviciat des Sœurs de la Miséricorde à Pittsburgh avec l'intention de pouvoir fonder, par la suite, une communauté religieuse qui aurait pour finalité l'adoration du Saint Sacrement et l'évangélisation des Américains de couleur et des Indiens. En 1891, au terme d'une année de noviciat, elle prononce ses vœux simples qui font d'elle la première Sœur et la supérieure de la communauté du Saint-Sacrement. L'année suivante, les Sœurs achèvent de s'installer dans le couvent Sainte-Elizabeth à Cornwells Heights (Pennsylvanie). Leur spiritualité est basée sur l'union avec le Seigneur-Eucharistie et le service des pauvres et des victimes de discriminations raciales. Son apostolat contribue à diffuser la conscience qu'il faut combattre toutes les formes de racisme au moyen de l'éducation et des services sociaux. En effet, dans les plantations, les gens de couleur sont très mal payés et les enfants ne sont pas scolarisés. Elle crée une soixantaine d'écoles. Sa plus grande œuvre est l'érection en 1925, à la Nouvelle-Orléans, de la "Xavier University" pour les Noirs. (Lorsqu'en1954 la Cour suprême abolira la séparation des races dans les écoles, cette université ouvrira ses portes à tous les étudiants sans distinction de couleur ou de religion.

En 1935, malade et plus que septuagénaire, une crise cardiaque l'affaiblit beaucoup, et voilà vingt ans qu'elle n'est plus à la tête de sa communauté. Les 18 dernières années de sa vie, devenue presque totalement immobile, elle consacre son temps à une prière intense. Elle meurt en 1955, à 96 ans. Ses dernières paroles sont: "O Esprit Saint, je voudrait être une plume, afin que votre souffle m'emporte où bon vous semble." Entre l'ardente jeune fille qui regimbait quelque peu contre l'aiguillon — épisode romain qu'elle aimait à rappeler en souriant —, et la femme très âgée livrée sans résistance au souffle de l'Esprit, quel chemin parcouru! "Puisse son exemple aider les jeunes en particulier à reconnaître que l'on ne peut pas trouver de plus grand trésor que de suivre le Christ avec un cœur sans partage en utilisant généreusement les dons que nous avons reçus au service des autres afin de collaborer ainsi à l'édifice d'un monde plus juste et plus fraternel." (Jean Paul II)

Canonisée le 1° octobre 2000, place Saint-Pierre, par le Pape Jean-Paul II.





CHAPELLE PAPALE POUR LA CANONISATION DES BIENHEUREUX

HOMÉLIE DE SA SAINTETÉ JEAN PAUL II

Dimanche 1er octobre 2000

1. "Ta parole est vérité:  consacre-nous dans ton amour" (Chant à l'Evangile:  cf. Jn 17, 17). Cette invocation, écho de la prière que le Christ adresse au Père après la Dernière Cène, semble s'élever de la foule des saints et des bienheureux, que l'Esprit de Dieu, de génération en génération, suscite dans l'Eglise.


Aujourd'hui, deux mille ans après le début de la Rédemption, nous faisons nôtres ces paroles, tandis que nous avons devant nous comme modèles de sainteté Agostino Zhao Rong et ses 119 compagnons, martyrs en Chine, Maria Josepha du Coeur de Jésus Sancho de Guerra, Katharine Mary Drexel et Giuseppina  Bakhita.  Dieu  le  Père  les a "consacrés dans son amour", réalisant la demande du Fils qui, pour lui donner un peuple saint, a ouvert les bras sur la croix et, en mourant, a détruit la mort et proclamé la résurrection (cf. Prière eucharistique, II, Préface).



A vous tous, chers frères et soeurs, réunis ici en grand nombre pour exprimer votre piété envers ces témoins lumineux de l'Evangile, j'adresse un salut cordial.

2. "Les préceptes du Seigneur apportent la joie" (Ps. resp.). Ces paroles du Psaume responsorial reflètent bien l'expérience d'Agostino Zhao Rong et de ses 119 compagnons, Martyrs en Chine. Les témoignages qui nous sont parvenus laissent entrevoir chez eux un état d'âme empreint d'une profonde sérénité et joie. 


L'Eglise est aujourd'hui reconnaissante au Seigneur, qui la bénit et l'inonde de lumière à travers la splendeur de la sainteté de ces fils et filles de la Chine. L'Année Sainte n'est-elle pas le moment le plus opportun pour faire resplendir leur témoignage héroïque? La jeune Anna Wang, âgée de 14 ans, résiste aux menaces du bourreau qui la somme d'apostasier, et, se préparant à être décapité, le visage lumineux, déclare:  "La porte du Ciel est ouverte à tous" et murmure trois fois de suite "Jésus". A ceux qui viennent de lui couper le bras droit et qui se préparent à l'écorcher vif, Chi Zhuzi, âgé de 18 ans, crie avec courage:  "Chaque morceau de ma chair, chaque goutte de mon sang vous répéteront que je suis chrétien". 

Les 85 autres Chinois, hommes et femmes de tout âge et de toute condition, prêtres, religieux et laïcs, ont témoigné d'une conviction et d'une joie semblables en scellant leur fidélité indéfectible au Christ et à l'Eglise à travers le don de la vie. Cela est survenu au cours de divers siècles et en des temps complexes et difficiles de l'histoire de Chine. La célébration présente n'est pas le lieu opportun pour émettre des jugements sur ces périodes de l'histoire:  on pourra et on devra le faire en une autre occasion. Aujourd'hui, à travers cette proclamation solennelle de sainteté, l'Eglise entend uniquement reconnaître que ces martyrs sont un exemple de courage et de cohérence pour nous tous et font honneur au noble peuple chinois.



Parmi cette foule de martyrs resplendissent également 33 missionnaires, hommes et femmes, qui quittèrent leur terre et tentèrent de s'introduire dans la réalité chinoise, en assumant avec amour ses caractéristiques, désirent annoncer le Christ et servir ce peuple. Leurs tombes sont là-bas, représentant presque un signe de leur appartenance définitive à la Chine, que, même dans leurs limites humaines, ils ont sincèrement aimée, dépensant pour elle toutes leurs énergies. "Nous n'avons jamais fait de mal à personne - répond l'Evêque Francesco Fogolla au gouverneur qui s'apprête à le frapper avec son épée - au contraire, nous avons fait du bien à de nombreuses personnes". 

Dieu fait descendre le bonheur (en langue chinoise dans le texte).



3. Dans la première lecture ainsi que dans l'Evangile de la liturgie d'aujourd'hui, nous avons vu que l'Esprit souffle là où il le désire et que Dieu, en tout temps, élit des personnes pour manifester son amour aux hommes et qu'il suscite des institutions appelées à être des instruments privilégiés de son action. C'est ce qui est arrivé à sainte Maria Josepha du Coeur de Jésus Sancho Guerra, fondatrice des Servantes de Jésus de la Charité.



Dans la vie de la nouvelle sainte, première basque à être canonisée, se manifeste de façon particulière l'action de l'Esprit. Celui-ci la guida vers le service des malades et la prépara à être la Mère d'une nouvelle famille religieuse. 

Sainte Maria Josepha vécut sa vocation comme une véritable apôtre dans le domaine de la santé, son service cherchant à conjuguer l'attention matérielle avec l'attention spirituelle, procurant par tous moyens le salut des âmes. Bien qu'elle fut malade lors des douze dernières années de sa vie, elle ne s'épargna aucun effort ni aucune souffrance, et se prodigua sans limites pour le service caritatif du malade dans un climat d'esprit contemplatif, en rappelant que "l'assistance ne consiste pas seulement à donner des médicaments et de la nourriture au malade, il existe un autre type d'assistance,... celle du coeur, en cherchant à s'adapter à la personne qui souffre". 

Que l'exemple et l'intercession de sainte Maria Josepha du Coeur de Jésus aident le peuple basque à bannir pour toujours la violence, et qu'Euskadi devienne une terre bénie et un lieu de coexistence pacifique et fraternelle, où soient toujours respectés les droits de toutes les personnes et où le sang innocent ne soit jamais versé.



4. "C'est un feu que vous avez thésaurisé dans les derniers jours" (Jc 5, 3). 


Dans la seconde Lecture de la Liturgie d'aujourd'hui, l'Apôtre Jacques réprimande les riches qui se reposent sur leur richesse et traitent les pauvres injustement. Mère Katharine Drexel est née dans l'aisance à Philadelphie, aux Etats-Unis. Mais ses parents lui ont enseigné que les possessions de sa famille n'étaient pas seulement pour eux mais devaient être partagées avec les moins chanceux. Devenue une jeune femme, elle fut profondément touchée par la pauvreté et les conditions désespérées qu'enduraient de nombreux natifs américains et afro-américains. Elle commença à consacrer sa fortune à l'oeuvre missionnaire et éducative parmi les membres les plus pauvres de la société. Plus tard, elle comprit que cela n'était pas suffisant. Avec un grand courage et une grande confiance dans la grâce de Dieu, elle choisit de donner entièrement non seulement sa fortune, mais toute sa vie au Seigneur.


A sa communauté religieuse, les Soeurs du Bienheureux Sacrement, elle enseigna une spiritualité fondée sur l'union de prière avec le Seigneur-Eucharistie et le service zélé aux pauvres et aux victimes des discriminations raciales. Son apostolat contribua à diffuser une conscience croissante du besoin de combattre toutes formes de racisme à travers l'éducation et les services sociaux. Katharine Drexel représente un excellent exemple de la charité concrète et de la solidarité généreuse avec les plus pauvres qui est depuis longtemps la marque distinctive des catholiques américains.



Puisse son exemple aider les jeunes en particulier à reconnaître que l'on ne peut pas trouver de plus grand trésor que de suivre le Christ avec un coeur sans partage et en utilisant généreusement les dons que nous avons reçus au service des autres et pour l'édification d'un monde plus juste et plus fraternel.

5. "La loi de Yahvé est parfaite, [...] sagesse du simple" (Ps 19 [18], 8).


Ces paroles tirées du Psaume responsorial d'aujourd'hui résonnent avec puissance dans la vie de Soeur Giuseppina Bakhita. Enlevée et vendue en esclavage à l'âge de 7 ans, elle endura de nombreuses souffrances entre les mains de maîtres cruels. Mais elle comprit que la vérité profonde est que Dieu, et non pas l'homme, est le véritable Maître de chaque être humain, de toute vie humaine. L'expérience devint une source de profonde sagesse pour cette humble fille d'Afrique. 

Dans le monde d'aujourd'hui, d'innombrables femmes continuent d'être victimes de représailles, même dans les sociétés modernes développées. Chez sainte Giuseppina Bakhita, nous trouvons un brillant défenseur de la véritable émancipation. L'histoire de sa vie inspire non pas l'acceptation passive, mais la ferme résolution à oeuvrer de façon effective pour libérer les jeunes filles et les femmes de l'oppression et de la violence, et pour leur restituer leur dignité dans le plein exercice de leurs droits. 

Mes pensées se tournent vers le pays de la nouvelle Sainte, qui est déchiré par une guerre cruelle depuis dix-sept ans, ne laissant entrevoir que peu de signes en vue d'une solution. Au nom de l'humanité qui souffre, j'en appelle une fois de plus à tous ceux qui sont en charge de responsabilités: ouvrez vos coeurs aux cris de millions de victimes innocentes et empruntez le chemin de la négociation. Avec la Communauté internationale, j'implore de ne pas continuer à ignorer l'immense tragédie humaine. J'invite toute l'Eglise à invoquer l'intercession de sainte Bakhita pour tous nos frères et soeurs persécutés et esclaves, en particulier en Afrique et dans son Soudan natal, afin qu'ils puissent connaître la réconciliation et la paix. 

J'adresse enfin une parole de salut affectueux aux Filles de la Charité canossienne, qui se réjouissent aujourd'hui de voir élever leur Consoeur à la gloire des autels. Qu'elles sachent tirer de l'exemple de sainte Giuseppina Bakhita un élan renouvelé en vue d'un dévouement généreux au service de Dieu et de leur prochain.



6. Très chers frères et soeurs, encouragés par le temps de grâce jubilaire, renouvelons la disponibilité à nous laisser profondément purifier et sanctifier par l'Esprit. Nous sommes attirés sur cette voie également par la Sainte dont nous rappelons aujourd'hui la mémoire:  Sainte Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jésus. A elle, Patronne des missions, ainsi qu'aux nouveaux saints, confions aujourd'hui la mission de l'Eglise au début du troisième millénaire.



Que Marie, Reine de tous les Saints, soutienne le chemin des chrétiens et de tous ceux qui sont dociles à l'Esprit de Dieu, afin qu'en chaque partie du monde, se diffuse la lumière du Christ Sauveur.



KATHARINE DREXEL (1858-1955)

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States of America, on November 26, 1858, Katharine Drexel was the second daughter of Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Langstroth. Her father was a well known banker and philanthropist. Both parents instilled in their daughters the idea that their wealth was simply loaned to them and was to be shared with others.

When the family took a trip to the Western part of the United States, Katharine, as a young woman, saw the plight and destitution of the native Indian-Americans. This experience aroused her desire to do something specific to help alleviate their condition. This was the beginning of her lifelong personal and financial support of numerous missions and missionaries in the United States. The first school she established was St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1887).

Later, when visiting Pope Leo XIII in Rome, and asking him for missionaries to staff some of the Indian missions that she as a lay person was financing, she was surprised to hear the Pope suggest that she become a missionary herself. After consultation with her spiritual director, Bishop James O'Connor, she made the decision to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to American Indians and Afro-Americans.
Her wealth was now transformed into a poverty of spirit that became a daily constant in a life supported only by the bare necessities. On February 12, 1891, she professed her first vows as a religious, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose dedication would be to share the message of the Gospel and the life of the Eucharist among American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Always a woman of intense prayer, Katharine found in the Eucharist the source of her love for the poor and oppressed and of her concern to reach out to combat the effects of racism. Knowing that many Afro-Americans were far from free, still living in substandard conditions as sharecroppers or underpaid menials, denied education and constitutional rights enjoyed by others, she felt a compassionate urgency to help change racial attitudes in the United States.

The plantation at that time was an entrenched social institutionin which the coloured 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.

Founding and staffing schools for both Native Americans and Afro-Americans throughout the country became a priority for Katharine and her congregation. During her lifetime, she opened, staffed and directly supported nearly 60 schools and missions, especially in the West and Southwest United States. Her crowning educational focus was the establishment in 1925 of Xavier University of Louisiana, the only predominantly Afro-American Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. Religious education, social service, visiting in homes, in hospitals and in prisons were also included in the ministries of Katharine and the Sisters.

In her quiet way, Katharine combined prayerful and total dependence on Divine Providence with determined activism. Her joyous incisiveness, attuned to the Holy Spirit, penetrated obstacles and facilitated her advances for social justice. Through the prophetic witness of Katharine Drexel's initiative, the Church in the United States was enabled to become aware of the grave domestic need for an apostolate among Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She did not hesitate to speak out against injustice, taking a public stance when racial discrimination was in evidence.

For the last 18 years of her life she was rendered almost completely immobile because of a serious illness. During these years she gave herself to a life of adoration and contemplation as she had desired from early childhood. She died on March 3, 1955.

Katharine left a four-fold dynamic legacy to her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who continue her apostolate today, and indeed to all peoples:

– her love for the Eucharist, her spirit of prayer, and her Eucharistic perspective on the unity of all peoples;

– her undaunted spirit of courageous initiative in addressing social iniquities among minorities — one hundred years before such concern aroused public interest in the United States;

– her belief in the importance of quality education for all, and her efforts to achieve it;

– her total giving of self, of her inheritance and all material goods in selfless service of the victims of injustice.

Katharine Drexel was  beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1980.

SOURCE : http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20001001_katharine-drexel_en.html


St. Katharine Drexel

St. Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn.

She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by reading Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.

Back home, she visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions.

 She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!”

After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed.

By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Native Americans in 16 states.

 Two saints met when she was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans.

At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.



Saint Katharine Drexel

Virgin and Foundress

L'Osservatore Romano

Feast: March 3

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. on 26 November 1858, Katharine was the second daughter of Francis Anthony Drexel, a wealthy banker, and his wife, Hannah Jane. The latter died a month after Katharine's birth, and two years later her father married Emma Bouvier, who was a devoted mother, not only to her own daughter Louisa (born 1862), but also to her two step-daughters. Both parents instilled into the children by word and example that their wealth was simply loaned to them and was to be shared with others.

Katharine was educated privately at home; she travelled widely in the United States and in Europe. Early in life she became aware of the plight of the Native Americans and the Blacks; when she inherited a vast fortune from her father and step-mother, she resolved to devote her wealth to helping these disadvantaged people. In 1885 she established a school for Native Americans at Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Later, during an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she asked him to recommend a religious congregation to staff the institutions which she was financing. The Pope suggested that she herself become a missionary, so in 1889 she began her training in religious life with the Sisters of Mercy at Pittsburgh.

In 1891, with a few companions, Mother Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. The title of the community summed up the two great driving forces in her life—devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and love for the most deprived people in her country.

Requests for help reached Mother Katharine from various parts of the United States. During her lifetime, approximately 60 schools were opened by her congregation. The most famous foundation was made in 1915; it was Xavier University, New Orleans, the first such institution for Black people in the United States.

In 1935 Mother Katharine suffered a heart attack, and in 1937 she relinquished the office of superior general. Though gradually becoming more infirm, she was able to devote her last years to Eucharistic adoration, and so fulfil her life’s desire. She died at the age of 96 at Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania, on 3 March 1955. Her cause for beatification was introduced in 1966; she was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on 26 January 1987, by whom she was also beatified on 20 November 1988.
Taken from:

L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 November 1988, page 2


SAINT KATHARINE DREXEL

Saint Katharine Drexel was born Catherine Marie, second daughter of Francis and Hannah Drexel of Philadelphia on November 26, 1858. Her mother died about a month after her birth. In1860 her father, a well-known banker and philanthropist, married Emma Bouvier. Devout Catholics, they gave a great deal of their time and money to philanthropic activities. Catherine and her two sisters were educated privately and were encouraged to conduct a Sunday school for children of the employees of their family’s summer home. While conducting these sessions, Catherine developed a devotion to St. Frances of Assisi and she vowed that, like St. Frances, she would one day give all she had to the poor. Both parents instilled in their children the idea that their wealth was simply loaned to them and was meant to be shared with others, especially the poor.

Catherine’s life was jarred by the protracted illness, and then death in 1883, of her step-mother, to whom she was devoted; two years later, her father died. At that time she seriously considered entering a convent but was persuaded by her religious counselor, Bishop James O’Connor of Omaha, NE, not to make a hasty decision but rather “wait and pray.” At the time of his death, her father left the largest fortune recorded in Philadelphia at that time. His three daughters received bequests that provided them with an extremely generous income for life. The rest of his fortune was donated to his favorite charities. The sisters continued to use their great wealth to respond to the many requests for aid they received from churchmen throughout the country.

In 1885, Catherine and her sisters traveled to the Western part of the United States, visiting Indian reservations. Having seen first-hand the poverty and suffering there, she began to build schools, supply food and clothing, and provide salaries for teachers on the reservations. She was also able to find priests to serve the spiritual needs of the people. In 1887 she established her first boarding school, St. Catherine Indian School, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

That same year, Catherine visited Rome to request Pope Leo XIII to provide missionaries to staff the schools she was funding. The Holy Father responded by suggesting that Catherine become a missionary herself. On February 12, 1891, in an arrangement with Bishop James O’Connor, Catherine began a novitiate with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, with the understanding that in two years she would found her own order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People; she would, she vowed, “be the mother and servant of these races.”

In late 1889 she received the religious habit and the name of Sister Mary Katharine. Thirteen companions joined her as the first Sisters of the new order. The motherhouse of the new order was established at St. Elizabeth’s Convent, Cornwells Height (Bensalem Township), PA. Mother Katharine, as she was now called, made the decision not to admit black women in part because laws in some Southern states would force them to house black and white nuns in segregated convents, and in part to avoid drawing worthy candidates away from two all black religious orders already established.

Founding and staffing schools for both Native and African Americans throughout the country became a priority for Mother Katharine and her congregation. In 1894 she purchased 1,600 acres in Rock Castle, Virginia, on which to build a boarding school for black girls. The school opened in 1899 as St. Francis de Sales School. Nearby was St. Emma’s built in 1895 by her sister Louise. St. Emma’s was a boarding school of black boys. Both schools concentrated on vocational arts in the belief that this was the best way at the time to provide training for young blacks to become economically independent.

Soon thereafter, a school for Pueblo children was established in New Mexico. Mother Katharine made it a priority to visit all the schools she helped.

In 1901, Mother Katharine had made a trip to visit St. Francis de Sales School and to discuss setting up small catechetical centers in nearby places in Virginia. This necessitated a considerable amount of train travel. Once in a coach between Richmond and Lynchburg, the train stopped at a small station marked Columbia. She noticed a gilt cross gleaming through the trees and said to her companion, Mother Mercedes, “Do you think that is a Catholic Chapel?” Mother Mercedes replied that she did not think so, as she had been told there was no Mass celebrated between Richmond and Lynchburg. Mother Katharine arranged to visit the small private Wakeham Chapel beneath the cross she had spotted and discovered that no Masses had been held in years and there was only an elderly caretaker in residence. Mother Katharine told the caretaker that although she could not promise that Mass would be said in the Chapel, she would send a few of her Sisters from St. Francis de Sales there each week to teach catechism She fulfilled that promise that same year and soon arranged for Josephite Fathers to say Mass there. The Wakeham Chapel unofficially became a Public Chapel, known as St. Joseph’s, which is still in existence. Her Sisters remained part of St. Joseph’s until 1971.

In 1915 Louisiana relocated a black college, Southern University, out of New Orleans. Mother Katharine purchased the vacant campus and reopened the school as Xavier College (now Xavier University). The primary mission of the college was to train lay teachers who would then staff schools for black children in rural Louisiana. Xavier was the first and only Catholic college for African-Americans and a pioneer in co-education.

In 1922, Fr. Sylvester Eisenmann, a Benedictine priest, visited Mother Katharine at the motherhouse in Pennsylvania to beg for assistance. He did not want financial aid but rather a teacher for his small school in Marty, SD, near Yankton. Touched to tears by his story, Mother Katharine nevertheless felt she could not spare any of her Sisters to go and teach school. She did, however, promise to pray about his request overnight. The next day, she reversed her decision. Within two months’ time, Mother Katharine and three of the Sisters arrived at the St. Paul Mission in Marty to begin teaching. Within a decade more than 400 Native American children were being educated at St. Paul’s Mission by the 23 Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

Having taken a vow of poverty, Mother Katharine lived the rest of her life with extreme frugality, wearing a single pair of shoes for ten years and using her pencils down to the erasers. During the same time, her income from her father’s trust amounted to more than $1,000 a day.


From the age of 33 until her death, she dedicated her life and personal fortune of $20 million to her work. She was a constant worker, personally reviewing each request for aid, often indicating her decision on a note on the letter of inquiry. She traveled tirelessly. Her strongest priority was the creation of church buildings and schools. No believer in segregation, she recognized that in her time a segregated church or school was often the most that could be hoped for. She generally confined her response to pleas for aid to buying land, erecting buildings, as well as occasionally paying salaries. She had neither the time nor inclination to supervise. One result of her practice was that she almost completely avoided conflict with the priests and bishops in charges of the missions she sponsored. By 1942 she had established a system of 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools in 13 states.


In 1935 Mother Katharine suffered a severe heart attack and was confined primarily to a wheelchair. For the next twenty years lived her life in prayerful retirement at St. Elizabeth’s Convent. She died there on March 3, 1955 at the age of 96. At the time of her death 501 members of her order were teaching in 63 schools and missions in 21 states, including Virginia.

Mother Katharine’s dedication inspired her Sisters and admirers to begin the cause of her sainthood less than 10 years after her death. In 1987, she was credited with the miraculous healing of a man’s deaf ear. Pope John Paul II bestowed upon her the title “Blessed.” In 1999 her intervention was declared to have resulted in the cure of deafness in a 17-month-old child. She was canonized “Saint Katharine Drexel” on October 1, 2000. She is only the second American-born saint.

Our thanks to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for information about St. Katharine. Learn more at their website: www.katharinedrexel.org.)



Katherine Drexel: A Saint for Modern Americans

by Br. Lawrence Mary M.I.C.M., Tert. January 31, 2006

On October 1, 2000, Pope John Paul II solemnly decreed that Katharine Drexel, Founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, is a saint of the Catholic Church. A third-generation, thoroughly “Red-blooded” American had been added to the rolls of the canonized saints.
First, let us briefly summarize the significant events in the life of our saint. Katharine Drexel, the second of three sisters, Elizabeth, Katharine and Louise, was born in 1858. Her father, Francis, was a Catholic; her natural mother, Hannah Langsroth Drexel, a Baptist Quaker, died soon after giving birth to Katharine. Two years later, her father married a Catholic, Emma Bouvier, who gave birth to a third daughter, Louise, in 1863. In 1887, in a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, Katharine pleaded for priests to serve the American Indians. His fateful reply was that she, herself, should become that missionary. At the end of 1888, at the age of thirty, she received permission from her spiritual director to become a religious and joined the Sisters of Mercy for her training. In 1891, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Negroes. (Intending to extend the focus of her order, she later changed the word “Negroes” to “Colored People.”) The order grew to include sixty schools and missions while the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament eventually numbered more than five hundred. In 1935, when she was seventy-seven years old, St. Katharine suffered a severe heart attack and until her death in 1955 lived in prayerful retirement. Her cause was opened in 1964 and in 2000 Pope John Paul II canonized her.
A Privileged American Catholic Childhood
If anyone could be described as having been “born with a golden spoon in her mouth,” it would have been Katharine Drexel and her sisters, Elizabeth and Louise. Few American girls would have had more of an excuse to be distracted by the world and what it has to offer than these daughters of one of the most prominent and wealthy families in the United States. Their father, Francis Drexel, was an outstanding banker and exchange broker — a founding partner in what was known at the time as Drexel, Morgan and Company.
Francis Drexel and his second wife, Emma (Bouvier), were more than devout Catholics. They were determined to instill truly Catholic teachings and norms of behavior into their children. They understood the principle, later summed up by the great Fr. Leonard Feeney, that “Catholicism is a manner.” Thus, from an early age, Emma trained her daughters in the dispensing of alms and performing other works of Catholic Charity. She had the charitable heart of a great Catholic woman who wanted her children to capture the spirit of true Catholic Charity and learn how to give alms prudently — in sharp contrast to other wealthy Americans of the day who engaged in self-serving, pompous philanthropy.
Convinced that a proper education and formation are essential ingredients of a Catholic manner, Francis and Emma retained two devout Catholic women, both of whom would have a major influence on the Drexel girls. Johanna Ryan, their trusted servant, was from Ireland, where she had tried to become a Sister of the Sacred Heart but was unable to continue because of her health. Although a simple person, she was unflinching in her defense of the Faith and taught the girls of the necessity of the Catholic Faith in order for one to be saved. The absolute sincerity of Johanna’s faith was somewhat indecorously demonstrated during an audience with Pope Pius IX in 1875. After the family had visited a few moments with the Holy Father, she fell to the floor, threw her arms around his knees and exclaimed, “Holy Father — praise God and His Blessed Mother — my eyes have seen our dear Lord, Himself!”
A more reserved Miss Mary Cassidy, the governess, was also from Ireland. The Drexels hired her after a careful search for someone that was not only a devout Catholic but had a deep and broad education with emphasis on literature and philosophy. As part of Miss Cassidy’s tutoring program for the girls, she required regular compositions and lengthy letters while the family traveled. Katharine remained a prodigious letter writer for the rest of her life. We know a great deal about her intellectual, emotional and spiritual development from the thousands of her letters, memos and personal notes that have been preserved in the archives of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Several qualities of Katharine’s life are indicative of the road to sanctity she was to follow. The first was her intense love of the Blessed Sacrament which manifested itself when she was a little girl as a fervent desire to make her First Holy Communion. In a letter to her mother, written in 1867, she said, “Dear Mama, I am going to make my First Communion and you will see how I will try to be good. Let me make it in May, the most beautiful of all the months.”
Katharine’s love for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was to grow in intensity throughout her life. After she formed her order, she took great pleasure in building a tabernacle in a location where the Blessed Sacrament had never been adored before. Often, at night, long after everyone else had retired for the evening, the sacristan would find her in the darkened church, kneeling with arms outstretched in front of the Blessed Sacrament or the Crucifix. Her concentration was so intense that she remained completely unaware that she was being observed. Throughout her life she meditated before and upon Jesus present in the Tabernacle and recorded many of her reflections and prayers. One of her later notes reads as follows:
“Ah, Lord, it is but too true, YOU ARE NOT LOVED! Shall we not strive by every means in our power to make you known and loved? Shall we not try to pay many an extra visit to our dearest Friend, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament, ever living to make intercession for us? And may this prayer, dearest Lord, be on our lips when we bow down in lowly adoration in your sacramental presence: ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus, you love! O Sacred Heart of Jesus, you are not loved! O would that you were loved!’ Our Lady, open your heart to me, your child. Teach me to know your Son intimately, to love him ardently, and to follow him closely.”
The salvation of souls, especially those souls that were the most neglected and forgotten, was the great quest of St. Katharine. Even as a little girl, she and her sisters knew that only Catholics are saved. As may be expected in “pluralistic” America, this proper Catholic belief led to several embarrassing incidents for Mr. and Mrs. Drexel, who, although they were devout Catholics, appear to have been somewhat weak in this area. As mentioned earlier, St. Katharine’s natural mother, Hanna Langsroth, as well as her grandparents, Piscator and Eliza Langsroth, were Protestants. One day, during a visit at the Langsroth’s, Katharine’s older sister, Elizabeth, said to her grandmother, “Oh, Grandma, I am so sorry for you because you can never go to heaven.”
“And, why cannot Grandmother go to heaven?” Mrs. Langsroth asked.
With the simplicity and purity of a truly Catholic child, Elizabeth replied, “You are a Protestant and Protestants never go to heaven.”
On another occasion, a friend of Grandma Langsroth’s, a Protestant minister, was visiting at the same time as were Elizabeth and Katharine. As the girls relayed the story in later years, when Mrs. Langsroth asked the minister to say grace before the meal, it caused them to go into a kind of panic. The girls decided to hold up their rosaries in full view during the meal prayer as a clear statement of their Catholicism. It appears that their feistiness for the Faith was more the result of the instruction of Johanna, the family servant and staunch Irish Catholic, than of the direct influence of Mr. and Mrs. Drexel. In fact, both of these early defenses of the faith caused some embarrassment for Francis and Emma. Sadly, they decided to smooth the ruffled feathers of the errant grandmother rather than support the innocent defense of the Faith provided by their children.
Despite this weakness in the belief of their parents, the Drexel daughters recognized the necessity of sacramental Baptism for salvation. When the oldest sister, Elizabeth, was married and in danger of losing a baby, she wrote to Katharine, “My pious and good little religious sister, Katharine, we count on your prayer to bring ours safely to the waters of Baptism and beyond them through a good and useful life to Heaven.” Later Mother Katharine would record this plea to the Mother of God, “O Mary, make me endeavor, by all the means in my power, to extend the kingdom of your Divine Son and offer incessantly my prayers for the conversion of those who are yet in darkness or estranged from His fold.”
Death and the Awakening of a Vocation

In 1883, when Katharine was twenty-four years old, her mother died from a very painful and lingering cancer. Katharine had been her nurse during the illness and was profoundly moved by her mother’s resignation to the Will of God and received deep realizations about the evil of Original Sin. It was at her mother’s bedside that thoughts of a religious vocation came to Katharine repeatedly and forcibly. Two years later, her father died. It was a time of profound soul searching which resulted in growth in the spiritual life and the serious examination of her vocation. In particular, she pondered whether or not she would stay in the world, knowing that its allurements lay at her feet, or whether she would pursue a life of austerity and voluntary poverty.
Some years before her mother’s death, at the age of fourteen, she had taken as her spiritual director Fr. James O’Connor, the local parish priest. A few years later, he was consecrated Bishop and moved to Omaha, Nebraska. They began a lengthy correspondence on the topic of her vocation, the plight of the Indians under his care and many other spiritual matters. Because most of their letters have been preserved, we have a unique opportunity to penetrate into Katherine’s spiritual development. The graces gained through the means of a good spiritual director cannot be overestimated and, as is clear from his letters, Bishop O’Connor was a holy and intelligent guide for our saint. It was Bishop O’Connor who, for several years, challenged her initial advancement towards a religious vocation when he detected remnants of worldliness, impulsiveness, vanity or scrupulosity. Katharine’s natural inclination was to become a contemplative. Bishop O’Connor, as an insightful spiritual father, knew that this was not the appropriate venue to develop her spirituality and to utilize her talents and education. It was he who encouraged and guided her towards the financial support of the Indian missions, an endeavor which would eventually be incorporated into her new religious order.
Mrs. Drexel had taught her daughters of their obligations to the less fortunate and how to engage in works of Catholic Charity appropriate for a family who was very blessed by God. From their very early years they assisted their mother while she thrice weekly threw open the doors of her home to assist the poor and needy and donated money for rent, medicine, food, clothing and other necessary items. In this manner, they donated over twenty thousand dollars per year. Mrs. Drexel taught them how to dispense alms with prudence and justice. For example, she employed a well-qualified person to investigate and ascertain the need where assistance was to be given.
In 1884, during their first trip out West, the family visited Montana, where she saw first hand the poverty and destitution of the Indian missions. During a conversation with the priest in charge of one of the missions, she asked what she could do to help. He told her that the small, primitive chapel needed a statue. Before she left, she used her own personal money and purchased a beautiful statue of Our Lady from a catalog and had it shipped to the mission. When she informed her father of what she had done, instead of reprimanding her for her extravagance, he put his arm around her and, with great tenderness, told her how glad he was for her generosity. This began her life-long commitment of personal support of the Indian missions. Later in her life, Katharine recalled when, as a young student, she studied the history of America and learned of Christopher Columbus, she was convinced the only reason for his voyage was to convert the Indians.
It was not until 1888, nearly two years after her providential personal audience with Pope Leo XIII, that Bishop O’Connor dropped his opposition to her desires to pursue a religious vocation. During that audience, Katharine dropped to her k nees and pleaded for missionaries for Bishop O’Connor’s Indians. To her astonishment, His Holiness responded, “Why not, my child, yourself become a missionary?” The shock and instant realization of the implications of his comment made her physically ill. Influenced by the Holy Father’s words, Bishop O’Connor guided her continuing support of the Indian missions and used it as a preparation for the work of the religious community she would eventually found. For another two years, he strongly encouraged Katharine to probe the depths of her spirituality. He assisted her to continually clarify her thoughts and aspirations until she had attained the vision and depth to pursue the great work that would eventually lie before her. For the present, he encouraged her to remain in the world, assist Indian and other missions, and work for the conversion of her non-Catholic family members.
As stated before, the guidance of a holy and prudent spiritual director is of immense value. From one of Bishop O’Connor’s letters, here is a small sample of the advice he gave Katharine when she was twenty-five years old:
“Most of the reasons you give, in your paper, for and against your entering the states considered, are impersonal, that is, abstract and general. These are very well as far as they go, in settling one’s vocation, but additional and personal reasons are necessary to decide it. The relative merits of the two states cannot be in question. It is of faith that the religious state is, beyond measure, the more perfect. It must be admitted, too, that in both, dangers and difficulties are to be encountered and overcome. One of these states is for the few, the other, for the many85.
“You give positive personal reasons for not embracing the religious state. The first — the difficulty you would find in separation from your family, does not merit much consideration, as that would have to be overcome, in any case. The second — your dislike for community life is a very serious one, and if it continues to weigh with you, you should give up all thought of religion. You would meet many perfect souls there, but some, even among superiors, who would be far from perfect. To be in constant communion with these, to be obliged to obey them, is the greatest cross of the religious life. Yet to this, all who ‘would be perfect,’ must be prepared to submit. Indeed, toleration of their faults and shortcomings is, in the Divine economy, one of the indispensable means of acquiring perfection. The same must be said of ‘the privations and poverty,’ and the monotony of the religious life, to which you allude. If you do not feel within you the courage, with God’s help, to bear them, for the sake of Him to whom they lead, go no further in your examination. Thousands have borne such things and have been sanctified by them, but only such as had foreseen them, and resolved, not rashly, to endure them for Our Lord.”
Finally, at the end of 1888, when Katharine was thirty years old and her desire to enter the religious life became impossible to restrain, he gave his enthusiastic permission for her to pursue a religious vocation. Although her natural inclination was to join a cloistered order, Bishop O’Connor led her to the realization that the needs of the Indian and other missions were such that she would have to found a new order. This new religious order would use her wealth and talents to serve these desperate peoples in a manner peculiar to the United States. First, she would enter the convent of the Sisters of Mercy. There, Bishop O’Connor arranged that she be trained for the purpose of founding of her own religious order — an order that would eventually work for the conversion of the most neglected of all Americans: the Indians and the Negroes. One of Bishop O’Connor’s greatest challenges as her spiritual director was to help Katharine to exercise careful prudence over her fortune once she entered the religious life. At first she wanted to divest herself of everything in order to practice holy poverty. She preferred to have the American hierarchy disburse these funds to the missions rather than herself. He wisely saw the need for her to retain control over these funds in order to ensure the success of the missionary activity of her new order, and he convinced her to refrain from formally divesting herself of her inheritance. In fact, without these funds her new order could never have accomplished the remarkable achievements we are about to describe.
The Birth of a Religious Order
Although her inclinations were evident for many years, Katharine was what is referred to today as a “late vocation.” She was thirty years old when she entered the convent of the Sisters of Mercy as a postulant. Her years of excellent schooling, practical training and spiritual growth would be refined by the discipline of the religious life. She now began to deepen her contemplative spirit. Her own writings and those who knew her attest to the fact that Katharine never fell prey to the heresy of “Americanism.” This error, which was spreading across our country at the time, divided the active from the passive virtues and overemphasized the active life — good works and activities — to the detriment of the meditative prayer life. She had the deep realization that the apostolic life must spring forth from the spirit of contemplative prayer life or it would never produce good fruits. Love of the Blessed Sacrament and the desire to share this love with others was the source of her missionary zeal.
Prior to her becoming a religious, Katharine and her sisters were major financial supporters of the Indian missions. As knowledgeable Catholics are aware, since the Revolutionary War, the United States Government has been in the hands of the Protestants. The policy towards the Indians was one of continual displacement. When the Indians rebelled and uprisings occurred, they were subdued and moved. In 1870, President Grant made an attempt to rectify the injustices perpetrated by the government and initiated his “Peace Policy.” He assigned the Indian agencies to the religious groups who had established prior missions in the various tribes and groups.
Although Grant’s intention was good, things did not work out well in practice. Of the total seventy-two Indian missions, thirty-eight were originally Catholic. Under the auspices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the government gave over to Protestant control thirty of the Catholic missions, containing eighty thousand Catholic Indians. This was a direct violation of President Grant’s official policy statement, which had specified that the missions were to remain under the control of the missionaries who instituted them. Without money and missionaries many of the Indians were in grave danger of losing their Faith and drifting into various forms of heresy or apostasy. They also suffered many injustices at the hands of their new Protestant masters. The religious and Indian representatives wrote strong letters to the Secretary of the Interior to protest this direct violation of the policy. Their letters were never answered.
In addition to the failure of Grant’s well-intentioned program, in 1881, Garfield was elected and was openly opposed to the Peace Plan. Garfield’s assassination soon after his election proved no reprieve either, for Vice President Arthur appointed Henry M. Teller — a man hostile to Grant’s policy — as the new Secretary of the Interior. Teller terminated the arrangement whereby religious associations selected Indian bureau agents. He simply ignored all appeals and requests to correct the many injustices replying, “I do not know what you mean by the Peace Policy of the Government.”
In 1885, following the collapse of Grant’s Plan and prior to Katharine’s entrance into the religious life, two of the most intrepid Catholic missionaries traveled across the country to seek a meeting with Katharine and her sisters, Elizabeth and Louise. The two were Bishop Martin Marty, O.S.B., Vicar Apostolic of Northern Minnesota, and Reverend Joseph Stephan, Director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. Both were zealous, experienced missionaries who were deeply concerned over the preservation of the Faith of the Indians in the formerly Catholic territories. They appealed for help to educate the Indians. Schools were desperately needed. They described the abject poverty and horrible conditions and explained that the salvation of many souls hung in the balance. With the assistance of the Drexels, many Indians could be preserved in the Faith. Katharine and her sisters were deeply moved by their appeal and generously responded. By 1907 they had donated over 1.5 million dollars to the Indian Missions in addition to all of their other works of Charity.
The association with Father Stephan would last until the end of his life. He and other selfless missionaries would open Katharine’s eyes to the need for qualified religious to teach and work among the Indians. Money was not enough; workers were desperately needed as well. The priests, along with their bishops, sent appeals for aid to the Drexel sisters so that these souls would remain Catholic. Eventually, her deep realization of the need for qualified, selfless and stable religious became the germ of the new order she was to found — The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Negroes. The goal of the order would be education, both in the Faith and in the trades that would be most useful for solid employment and conducting family life. Schools were to be built and staffed. Tabernacles would be established and the Blessed Sacrament adored where it had never been worshiped before.
Bishop O’Connor guided her through these years of decision and the formation of the new order. His influence was such that she referred to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament as Bishop O’Connor’s order. He had helped her prudently to fund and care for various Indian missions. He was a keen observer of human nature and realized that, if Katharine were seen as a source of limitless funds, other donors would not step forward. He advised her to donate as secretly as possible, to fund only the start of a new program, and immediately to locate other donors once it had been established.
In 1890, just a year before the official establishment of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Bishop O’Connor passed to his eternal reward. Katharine was devastated and began to despair of her ability to carry on with the founding of the new religious order. She felt completely abandoned. The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Patrick Ryan, who had been an intimate friend of Bishop O’Connor, wrote her a letter in which he promised to visit after he had celebrated the Requiem High Mass for Bishop O’Connor. She had met him on a number of occasions since his installation as Archbishop in 1884, and they were on very friendly terms. In the past, he had written her a number of letters with spiritual advice and had, on several occasions, celebrated Mass in the Drexel home. During the promised meeting, she confided her profound distress and sense of inadequacy. He replied, “If I share the burden with you, if I help you, can you go on?” This was the beginning of a long and fruitful spiritual relationship — one that would last for the next twenty years. He truly became her father in God. Archbishop Ryan knew the minds of Bishop O’Connor and Katharine as well as the needs of the Catholic missions in America. His guidance proved most providential for the Catholics in this country and for the growth in personal sanctity of our saint.
Shortly after this meeting, in one of Archbishop Ryan’s first letters to Katharine, he advised her to acquire a deep interior spirit and warned her that the success of her future activities would depend on that spirit. Katharine took his words very much to heart. She had received similar advice from Bishop O’Connor and had already begun to cultivate a life of reflection and prayer from which she would draw the strength to live a very active religious life. This growth in her spiritual life was one of the remarkable traits which distinguished her from the “social activists” of the day. The Paulists and other contemporaneous American Catholics were stressing the active virtues to the exclusion of the contemplative. In his letter, Testem Benevolentiae , Pope Leo XIII condemned the idea as part of a heresy named “Americanism.” Katharine was neither a theological nor a practical Americanist.
Reaping the Harvest
Finally, on February 12, 1891, Katharine made her profession as the first Sister of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. The initial vows of poverty, chastity and obedience were for five years, to which she added another vow: “To be the mother and servant of the Indian and Negro races according to the rule of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament; and not to undertake any work which would lead to the neglect or abandonment of the Indian and Colored races.” She desired to unite herself with the great missionaries of the age — to continue and enhance their work of converting the nation.
Although Katharine was willing to give up everything completely, Archbishop Ryan made it clear that her vow of poverty was not to include a complete renunciation of her inheritance. He advised her, “As to the mode of holding the property, this should be only until the Motherhouse is completed and you have entered it. Afterwards , the property should be in the name of yourself and a few of the sisters, as in the case of the Good Shepherd and other institutions. But there is time enough for this consideration.” In other words, it was necessary that she retain control of the finances of her new order, while maintaining her spirit of poverty. Fortunately, she was most obedient to her spiritual advisor. As a result, her personal poverty was a virtue that continued to grow until it was one that she practiced to a heroic degree.
The Drexel’s summer home, which the family had named “St. Michael’s,” was remodeled to become the first novitiate for the new order. It was located in Torresdale, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. The new home of the order housed ten novices and three postulants. Immediately, they set about forming a school for the area residents, both white and Colored. Having discussed the purpose of the order and the people who would be the focus of its missionary efforts, we deem a slight diversion necessary.
In recent years St. Katharine has been portrayed as some sort of saint of “Social Justice” — as one who campaigned for the “rights” of the Colored and Indian peoples. Nothing could be further from the truth. Closely akin to her concern for her own personal sanctity was her burning desire for the salvation of souls through conversion to the Catholic Faith. When her efforts in this endeavor were undermined or openly opposed, she worked to overcome these obstacles. She was not intimidated by anyone who attempted to impede the salvation of souls. She discovered the intense prejudice against Negroes and Indians — a particularly evil manifestation of Protestantism in America. In several instances, similar to today’s Traditional Catholics, she was forced to use more discreet means to secure property for her schools for the Negro children in the South. In more than one instance, she purchased a property through an intermediary. In Nashville, for instance, when the former owner discovered who had purchased the property and that it would be used as a school for Negro children, he organized the neighbors in an attempt to thwart the project. He even attempted to resurrect a long abandoned proposal to build a road through the property — all for naught.
Such bigotry was not limited to the South. In 1891, her ancestral home of St. Michael’s in Torresdale, Pennsylvania was to be remodeled to serve as the new order’s Motherhouse. Just before Archbishop Ryan was to conduct the formal ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the new Motherhouse, they had a terrible fright. A stick of dynamite was found in the very spot marked for the cornerstone. There were rumors that all the Catholics on the platform attending the ceremony would be blown to bits. When Archbishop Ryan was apprised of the situation, he requested a dozen plainclothes policemen to be present during the ceremony. The architect of the building project had a clever idea of his own. He bought a dozen broomsticks and placed them into a wooden box, which he nailed shut and labeled, “HANDS OFF, DO NOT TOUCH, HIGH EXPLOSIVE, NITROGLYCERINE.” He had one of the workmen guard the box. His idea was to force the perpetrators to reconsider their nefarious plot. The plan was a resounding success. Word went through the local community that no one was to go near the platform or the guests. The ceremony was concluded without incident. Thus, from the very beginnings of her new order, Sr. Katharine was confronted by the bigotry that was to be her constant adversary throughout her lifetime of missionary activity.
Through the intercession of Archbishop Ryan, Katharine’s new order was saved from a different type of disaster. When she entered the religious life, Katharine had already been providing financial aid to St. Stephen’s Cheyenne mission in Wyoming. She received some urgent letters from the local ordinary, Bishop Burke, concerning the plight of the mission from a lack of qualified religious to assist the priest. She and some of her new sisters received permission from Archbishop Ryan to visit the mission. She found it to be in a deplorable state because of the lack of qualified religious. She met with Bishop Burke and promised support, intimating that she would supply sisters to take over the school. When she returned to the Motherhouse in Torresdale, Archbishop Ryan enjoined her from sending anyone to the mission. The young sisters, who were still postulants and novices, had not completed their formation. The rigors of a frontier mission would overwhelm them, despite their youthful enthusiasm. Although her disappointment was intense, she obeyed his directive, later admitting the imprudence of her original decision. Archbishop Ryan wisely determined that the sisters should not leave the Motherhouse until they were steeped in religious principles and well formed in holiness. Only after several more years of preparation did he give permission for the sisters to begin to operate in the Indian missions.
Katharine soon discovered that scarcity of religious personnel was the problem that dogged all Catholic missions in the United States. Not only did the Indian missions in the West desperately need assistance, the Negro missions of the South needed it as much or even more. Eventually, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament would not only send sisters to Wyoming, but to Santa Fe, New Mexico; San Jose, California; Old Laguna, New Mexico; and many other places. While she was improving and staffing these missions she was busy near home as well. With the assistance of her two natural sisters, Elizabeth and Louise, she built St. Emma’s Industrial and Agricultural Institute near Richmond, Virginia. It was a trade school for Negro students. Its purpose was to prepare the students to make an honorable living for themselves and their future families.
The Navajos had been subdued by the United States Army and placed on a reservation in Arizona. Through the efforts of Sr. Katharine’s friend, Fr. Stephan, land was purchased, and a Navajo mission was established. At first she supported the operation only financially. The Navajo language was extremely difficult to master, and there were many obstacles to establishing a mission. However, Father Stephan located three Franciscan priests who accepted the challenge and painstakingly set about to teach themselves the language and write a book of translation. With the establishment of a Catholic Navajo mission, Sr. Katharine built a boarding school, St. Michael’s, which was accomplished only after many setbacks and difficulties. The happy result was that the Navajos eventually became among the most devout and enthusiastic of all the Indian Catholics.
The growth of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament was gradual, but in 1904, fifteen years after the order was founded, there were 104 sisters functioning in the Motherhouse, in Santa Fe, Rock Castle and St. Michael’s in Arizona. Special mention should be made of Xavier University in New Orleans. Begun in 1917 as a two-year Normal School, it became a full-fledged university by 1925. It was the first university in the country that admitted Negroes. It soon attracted students from around the country and such far off places as the Caribbean and Africa.
In 1955, the order held 51 convents from which were conducted 49 elementary schools, 12 high schools, Xavier University in New Orleans, 3 houses of social service and a house of studies in Washington, D.C. At that time, the number of sisters exceeded five hundred, although by 2000, the year of St. Katharine’s canonization, that number had dwindled to a little over two hundred. (Such are the “fruits” of Vatican Council II, which minimized the importance of the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus . If salvation can be found outside of the Catholic Church, there is certainly no need for missionaries.)
A Contemplative at Last
In her initial consideration of a religious vocation, St. Katharine was inclined to become a contemplative. This dream would not be fulfilled through her new order, which was involved in missionary activity, but rather by God’s providence. In 1935, when she was seventy-seven years old, she suffered her first major heart attack during a visit to the missions. She was returned to the Motherhouse in Torresdale. There, her doctor confirmed the serious nature of her illness, and she was advised to reduce radically her level of activity. When she tried to minimize the problem by saying, “Nobody is necessary for God’s work. God can do the work without any of His creatures,” her doctor replied simply, “Certainly, Mother, I agree with you, but ordinarily He does not.” The point was made. After years of submitting her will to God’s, her docility was complete, and she consented to live the life of an invalid until her death in 1955.
For the first several years following her heart attack, St. Katharine was involved in the decisions and plans involving the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. However, she slowly became more enfeebled. Eventually, she did not leave her little room, which was located on the second floor of the Motherhouse. She spent her days and nights in prayer. Her growth in profound sanctity is documented, for she filled notebooks with the results of her meditations and middle-of-the-night adorations. She willingly accepted her role as a suffering soul for the success of her order and the conversion of the Indians and Colored People. Finally, on March 3, 1955, she quietly and peacefully gave up her soul to her Divine Bridegroom.
The Saint of “Social Justice”?
Even when she was alive, there were those who attached themselves to St. Katharine or ingratiated themselves with her for their own ends, including the liberal Jesuit Father LaFarge, the indifferentist Cardinal Cushing of Boston, and even one extremely devout-looking priest who was not a priest at all! These associations have led some to the conclusion that St. Katharine was sort of a Catholic Martin Luther King, Jr. This conclusion is supported by much of the available literature on her. As is common these days, the research for this article was begun on the Internet. Reading a number of the articles that appear on various web sites — including that of St. Katharine’s own order — one may begin to wonder if St. Katharine’s canonization was purely an act of “political correctness.” Even though it should not be possible, did the Pope err when he canonized her? Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, all of the Internet sources referred to her as a sort of “Saint of Social Justice for Minorities and/or Women.” Now the Church has traditionally canonized someone because he or she exhibited one or more virtues to an heroic degree. But what sort of virtue is “Social Justice,” and how can it be practiced to an heroic degree? Was her canonization simply one more post-Vatican II novelty?
“The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:20). Our Lord told His Apostles to remember these words, and Catholics today should keep them in mind, too. Jesus has been so historically revised as to be made everything from a “nominal Jew” to a tree-hugging pantheist, to a “Witness of Jehovah,” and more. Certainly Katherine, His servant, is also susceptible to revisionism. A read through the older books about St. Katharine and, especially, of her own writings, will make clear that the story of her life of virtue, like so many things, has been distorted by the Modernists. One very interesting example of this is a pair of books written by Ellen Tarry, a Negro woman and a former pupil in one of Sr. Katharine’s schools. In 1958, she wrote a book that was part of the “Vision Books” series entitled Katharine Drexel, Friend of the Neglected. It was a straightforward account, written with great empathy. She properly referred to Negroes as “Negroes” and Indians as “Indians” and Colored People as “Colored People.” That is the way Katharine referred to them and included them in the official name of her order — “Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Negroes.” St. Katharine later modified this to “Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People” because she did not want her missionary activities limited to those two groups. She wanted to include all Colored People.
In 2000, Pauline Books and Media of Boston republished this same book under the title, Saint Katharine Drexel, Friend of the Oppressed. From the title, you may already begin to get the picture. Since the publication of the first edition, Ellen Tarry has become a well-known worker for “social justice.” She prides herself on being a member of “the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women, the New York Chapter of the National Association of Media Women, the Schomberg Corporation, Commission Emeritus of the Office of Black Ministry, Archdiocese of New York and has served as a non-governmental observer at the United Nations.” She spent many years working in the New York office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a “relocations advisor and then as an equal opportunity officer.” In the latest edition of her book, St. Katharine has become a woman whose “generous heart was also moved by the deprivations and injustices suffered by many African Americans.” Negroes have become “African Americans” and Indians have become “Native Americans.” Even though the story of Katharine’s life prior to the establishment of her order remains basically the same, the entire focus of the book has changed. Suddenly, from a story about a woman growing in holiness and dedicated to the salvation of souls, it has been changed to that of a woman who is a campaigner for the “civil rights” of the peoples.” The emphasis is entirely topsy-turvy.
The question remains: What virtues did St. Katharine practice heroically — virtues that should be imitated by the Faithful? For Americans, in particular, St. Katharine provides us with a challenging example of heroic poverty of spirit and charity. Katharine was born into one of the richest families in America. She had all of the advantages such a background would provide — luxurious accommodations, the finest food, a marvelous education, an unlimited ability to travel, excellent social connections and a proper introduction to high society as a debutante and all that goes with it. In short, she had everything that could have turned her into a wealthy, high-society, spoiled brat. Yet, her life was one that exemplified true poverty of spirit.
As described by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., in his book Divine Intimacy , “Poverty of spirit includes detachment not only from material goods, but also from moral and even spiritual goods. Whoever tries to assert his own personality, seeking the esteem and regard of creatures, who remains attached to his own will and ideas, or is too fond of his independence, is not poor in spirit, but is rich in himself, in his self-love and his pride.” As we have seen, throughout her life Katharine was entirely docile to the counsels and advice of her spiritual director. She felt herself to be an entirely inadequate instrument of God. In practice, she treated herself as the humblest of servants. She always took the meanest of accommodations, ate the simplest foods and gave all personal belongings away. From her last years we have the following touching example of her poverty. After she had become enfeebled and was bedridden, her primary source of visible consolation was a small holy card with a picture of Pope St. Pius X. She held it in her hands for hours every day while she prayed. Once, when a longtime acquaintance, Father William Markoe, came to call, she saw in his face something that troubled her. When he was leaving, she gave him her most precious possession — her little picture of St. Pius X. Such was Katharine’s spirit of poverty. Her entire life was a sacrifice for others; she held nothing back for herself.
Aside from her personal growth in sanctity, St. Katharine’s primary concern was the salvation of souls. Everything else was only a means to this end. She burned with the desire to provide the opportunity for all Americans to love the Blessed Sacrament as much as she did. Her true Charity was intense. An old Indian who had been educated by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and who was a close friend of St. Katharine for many decades until her death in 1955 said, “She never mixed two religions together. She always stressed the Catholic.” At her canonization, when there was much talk about Katharine being a “saint of the oppressed” and “advocate for social justice,” an elderly sister, who had taken care of St. Katharine during her last years, made this wise observation, “Her greatest accomplishment was her sanctity.”
St. Mary Katharine Drexel, pray for us!



CAPPELLA PAPALE FOR THE CANONIZATION OF 123 NEW SAINTS

HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II



Sunday 1 October 2000

 
1. "Your word is truth; sanctify us in your love" (Gospel Acclamation, Italian Lectionary; cf. Jn 17: 17). This invocation, an echo of Christ's prayer to the Father after the Last Supper, seems to rise from the host of saints and blesseds whom the Spirit of God continues to raise up in his Church from generation to generation.

Today, 2,000 years since the beginning of Redemption, we make these words our own, while we have before us as models of holiness Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, martyrs in China, María Josefa of the Heart of Jesus Sancho de Guerra, Katharine Mary Drexel and Josephine Bakhita. God the Father "sanctified them in his love", granting the request of the Son, who opened his arms on the Cross, put an end to death and revealed the resurrection, in order to win for the Father a holy people (cf. Eucharistic Prayer II, Preface).

I extend my cordial greeting to you all, dear brothers and sisters, gathered here in great numbers to express your devotion to these shining witnesses of the Gospel. 


2. "The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart" (Responsorial Psalm). These words of the Responsorial Psalm clearly reflect the experience of Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, martyrs in China. The testimonies which have come down to us allow us to glimpse in them a state of mind marked by deep serenity and joy.


Today the Church is grateful to her Lord, who blesses her and bathes her in light with the radiant holiness of these sons and daughters of China. Is not the Holy Year the most appropriate moment to make their heroic witness shine resplendently? Young Ann Wang, a 14-year-old, withstood the threats of the torturers who invited her to apostatize. Ready for her beheading, she declared with a radiant face:  "The door of heaven is open to all", three times murmuring:  "Jesus". And 18-year-old Chi Zhuzi, cried out fearlessly to those who had just cut off his right arm and were preparing to flay him alive:  "Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you that I am Christian".

The other 85 Chinese men and women of every age and state, priests, religious and lay people, showed the same conviction and joy, sealing their unfailing fidelity to Christ and the Church with the gift of their lives. This occurred over the course of several centuries and in a complex and difficult era of China's history. Today's celebration is not the appropriate time to pass judgement on those historical periods:  this can and should be done elsewhere. Today, with this solemn proclamation of holiness, the Church intends merely to recognize that those martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honour the noble Chinese people.

Resplendent in this host of martyrs are also the 33 missionaries who left their land and sought to immerse themselves in the Chinese world, lovingly assimilating its features in the desire to proclaim Christ and to serve those people. Their tombs are there as if to signify their definitive belonging to China, which they deeply loved, although with their human limitations, and for which they spent all their energies. "We never wronged anyone", Bishop Francis Fogolla replied to the governor who was preparing to strike him with his sword. "On the contrary, we have done good to many". (In Chinese) God sends down happiness. 


3. Both the first reading and the Gospel of today's liturgy show us that the Spirit blows where he wills, and that God, in every age, chooses individuals to show his love to mankind and raises up institutions called to be privileged instruments of his action. So it was with St María Josefa of the Heart of Jesus Sancho de Guerra, foundress of the Servants of Jesus of Charity.


In the life of the new saint, the first Basque to be canonized, the Spirit's action is remarkably visible. He led her to the service of the sick and prepared her to be the Mother of a new religious family. 


St María Josefa lived her vocation as an authentic apostle in the field of health, since her style of care sought to combine motherly and spiritual attention, using every means to achieve the salvation of souls. Although she was ill for the last 12 years of her life, she spared no effort or suffering and was unstinting in her charitable service to the sick in a contemplative atmosphere, recalling that "care does not only consist in giving the sick medicine and food; there is another kind of care ... and it is that of the heart, which tries to adapt itself to the suffering person".


May María Josefa of the Heart of Jesus help the Basque people to banish violence for ever, and may Euskadi be a blessed land and a place of peaceful and fraternal coexistence, where the rights of every person are respected and innocent blood is no longer shed.

4. "See what you have stored up for yourselves against the last days!" (Jas 5: 3).

In the second reading of today's liturgy, the Apostle James rebukes the rich who trust in their wealth and treat the poor unjustly. Mother Katharine Drexel was born into wealth in Philadelphia in the United States. But from her parents she learned that her family's possessions were not for them alone but were meant to be shared with the less fortunate. As a young woman, she was deeply distressed by the poverty and hopeless conditions endured by many Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She began to devote her fortune to missionary and educational work among the poorest members of society. Later, she understood that more was needed. With great courage and confidence in God's grace, she chose to give not just her fortune but her whole life totally to the Lord.

To her religious community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she taught a spirituality based on prayerful union with the Eucharistic Lord and zealous service of the poor and the victims of racial discrimination. Her apostolate helped to bring about a growing awareness of the need to combat all forms of racism through education and social services. Katharine Drexel is an excellent example of that practical charity and generous solidarity with the less fortunate which has long been the distinguishing mark of American Catholics.

May her example help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the building of a more just and fraternal world. 


5. "The law of the Lord is perfect, ... it gives wisdom to the simple" (Ps 19: 8). 

These words from today's Responsorial Psalm resound powerfully in the life of Sr Josephine Bakhita. Abducted and sold into slavery at the tender age of seven, she suffered much at the hands of cruel masters. But she came to understand the profound truth that God, and not man, is the true Master of every human being, of every human life. This experience became a source of great wisdom for this humble daughter of Africa.


In today's world, countless women continue to be victimized, even in developed modern societies. In St Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.

My thoughts turn to the new saint's country, which has been torn by a cruel war for the past 17 years, with little sign of a solution in sight. In the name of suffering humanity I appeal once more to those with responsibility:  open your hearts to the cries of millions of innocent victims and embrace the path of negotiation. I plead with the international community:  do not continue to ignore this immense human tragedy. I invite the whole Church to invoke the intercession of St Bakhita upon all our persecuted and enslaved brothers and sisters, especially in Africa and in her native Sudan, that they may know reconciliation and peace.

Lastly, I address an affectionate greeting to the Canossian Daughters of Charity, who are rejoicing today because their sister has been raised to the glory of the altars. From the example of St Josephine Bakhita may they be able to draw renewed encouragement for generous dedication in the service of God and neighbour.
6. Dear brothers and sisters, encouraged by this time of Jubilee grace, let us renew our willingness to be deeply purified and sanctified by the Spirit. We are also drawn to this path by the saint whose memorial we celebrate today:  Theresa of the Child Jesus. To her, patroness of the missions, and to the new saints we entrust the mission of the Church at the beginning of the third millennium.

May Mary, Queen of All Saints, support the steps of Christians and of all who are docile to the Spirit of God, so that the light of Christ the Saviour will spread to every part of the world.
 
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