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St. Katharine Drexel: From Wealthy Heiress to Religious Founder Latest

St. Katharine Drexel: From Wealthy Heiress to Religious Founder

Mar 03, 2021 by

The life of St. Katharine Drexel shows the great impact of generosity and how powerful the gift of self can be. Her life and love for the Eucharist challenge us to pursue truth and generosity in our own lives today and to use what we have to help those around us.

Side by side pictures of St. Katharine Drexel as a young girl and as a nun.

Life and Mission

St. Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia in 1858 to a wealthy family. Her father was an international banker. They were generous with their wealth, opening their doors to the poor and making time for daily prayer.

Her parents taught Katharine and her two sisters how to be generous with their blessings at a very early age. For instance, Katharine’s mother opened up their family house three days each week to help feed and care for the poor. Her father also made sure to dedicate thirty minutes each day to prayer and had a deep spiritual life.

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Katharine was able to receive a wonderful education and traveled across the United States and Europe. During a trip to Europe, Katharine felt a calling to the religious life. On this visit, she was able to have an audience with the Pope Leo XIII. She asked the Holy Father to send missionaries to Wyoming. He answered her saying, “Why don’t you go?”

Not long after, Katharine stunned society by a major decision. As Wikipedia noted, "Her decision rocked Philadelphia's social circles. The Philadelphia Public Ledger carried a banner headline: 'Miss Drexel Enters a Catholic Convent—Gives Up Seven Million.'"

She then began her work of helping the conditions of African Americans and Native Americans in America. Eventually, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order dedicated to sharing the Gospel and Eucharist to African Americans and Native Americans.

As an heiress to her father’s fortune (and the last of her siblings alive), Katharine committed her life and fortune to this purpose. 

She died in 1955, but by this time, her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament had founded 49 elementary schools, 12 high schools, and established Xavier University in Louisiana, the first Catholic University in the United States for African Americans.

Belmont Abbey College Connection

St. Katharine at Belmont Abbey College with young children around her.

Did you know that we at The Catholic Company have a strong, local connection to St. Katharine Drexel? Based in Charlotte, NC, we are close to Belmont Abbey College, a school that received help from St. Katharine!

The Benedictine monks needed help completing the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians and turned to Mother Katharine. She agreed to help, if the monks agreed to leave some of the pews open for African Americans and Native Americans. She was also able to visit the college and see the Basilica she had helped build.

St. Katharine Drexel Prayer

This prayer from the USCCB website is a powerful prayer to say on St. Katharine’s feast day. 

Ever loving God, you called Saint Katharine Drexel

to teach the message of the Gospel and

to bring the life of the Eucharist to

the Black and Native American peoples.

By her prayers and example,

enable us to work for justice

among the poor and oppressed.

Draw us all into the Eucharistic community

of your Church, that we may be one in you.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ,

your Son, who lives and reigns with you and

the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Katharine, pray for us!

Social Share Picture of St. Katharine.