Today we celebrate the Feast Saint Katharine Drexel, America’s second native born saint. Born in 1858 to a wealthy family in Philadelphia, Katharine developed a love for the poor at an early age. In time, she would devote her life to serving the poor among the Native American and black population.
It seems fitting that her feast day would fall in the week following this past Sunday’s gospel where Jesus says:
No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon. (Mt 6:24)
Katharine’s parents taught her that everything comes from God, and that wealth is entrusted to us so that we can share it with others. This beautiful woman of faith wholeheartedly served God.
Homeschooled, Katharine travelled much throughout the United States and Europe witnessing the plight and poverty of Native Americans and post-Civil War blacks. In response, she decided to use her wealth to improve the lives of those people. In 1885 she opened a school for Native Americans in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She continued to open more schools over time.
Eventually, she saw the need to staff these schools with a religious order. She asked Pope Leo XIII to recommend an order which she would fund. Rather than suggesting an existing order, the pope suggested that she become a missionary and start an order. In 1889 she began her training in Pittsburgh with the Sisters of Mercy. In 1891, Mother Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. By the time of her death in 1955 at the age of 96, she had used an estimated $20 million of her own money to open about 60 schools, including Xavier University in New Orleans, one of the first Catholic colleges for blacks in the United States. Pope John Paul II canonized her in October, 2000.
So what was it in this woman of affluence that caused her generosity? I believe only faith can do that!
As a young girl, she had eyes to see what others didn’t. She witnessed the dignity of the human person and the suffering face of Christ in the poverty of each individual she saw. Faith compelled her to believe that God’s provision for her and her family was also for His family. Charity, rooted in faith in Christ, obliged her to obey Jesus’ words in putting her wealth at the service of God and the Church. She also had to believe in God’s sufficiency. She lived the words of Jesus from last Sunday’s gospel. It continues:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” (Mt 6:25-34)
So, today, let us pray for the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and for the Native and African American people who still struggle in poverty. Let us pray, too, that our generosity grows and that our trust in God’s provision for us will multiply.
St Katharine Drexel, pray for us! Anne