Also known as
Catherine Marie Drexel
Daughter of the extremely wealthy railroad entrepreneurs and philanthropists Francis Anthony and Emma (Bouvier) Drexel. Taught from an early age to use her wealth for the benefit of others; her parents even opened their home to the poor several days each week. Katharine's older sister Elizabeth founded a Pennsylvania trade school for orphans; her younger sister founded a liberal arts and vocational school for poor blacks in Virginia. Katharine nursed her mother through a fatal three-year illness before setting out on her own; Emma died in 1883.
Interested in the condition of Native Americans, during an audience in 1887, she asked Pope Leo XIII to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend, Bishop James O'Connor. The pope replied, "Why don't you become a missionary?"
She visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux chief, and began her systematic aid to Indian missions, eventually spending millions of the family fortune. Entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy. Founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored, now known simply as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA in 1891. Advised by Mother Frances Cabrini on getting the Order's rule approved in Rome. She received the approval in 1913.
By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, 40 mission centers, 23 rural schools, 50 Indian missions, and Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, the first United States university for blacks. Segregationists harassed her work.
Following a heart attack, she spent her last twenty years in prayer and meditation. The Shrine of Saint Katharine is at the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, 1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, USA 19020-8502, tel/215.639.7878, email/kathdrexelataol.com; it is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm weekdays, and in 2008 was declared a National Shrine.
26 November 1858 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
3 March 1955 of natural causes at the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, 1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, USA 19020-8502
26 January 1987 by Pope John Paul II
20 November 1988 by Pope John Paul II
1 October 2000 at Rome by Pope John Paul II