St. Katharine Drexel was a woman ahead of her time. Born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia in 1858, she dedicated her life to serving the marginalized and oppressed. Her legacy as a pioneer for social justice and equality lives on today, nearly 100 years after her death.
As a young woman, Katharine was deeply influenced by her parents’ commitment to philanthropy and helping those in need. Her father, Francis Drexel, was a banker and philanthropist who used his wealth to support Catholic missions and education.
She inherited several million dollars from her family. But despite her immense wealth, Katharine gave it all away to finance missions for Native American communities. She was deeply shocked by the treatment of Native Americans and was appalled by what she read in A Century of Dishonor, a book by Helen Hunt Jackson. Her encounter with the plight of Native Americans led her to become a fierce advocate for their rights.
Katharine’s passion for social justice was further ignited by a visit to the Dakotas in 1884, where she witnessed firsthand the poverty and discrimination faced by Native Americans. This experience led her to become a fierce advocate for Native American rights.
Katharine traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Leo XIII, asking for missionaries to staff the missions. However, Pope Leo suggested that she should be a missionary herself. She heard the call of the Holy Spirit and decided to dedicate herself to a life of service to those in need. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament on February 12, 1891, to minister to the needs of African American children and Native American children, especially those living in poverty.
In addition to her work with Native Americans, Katharine was also deeply committed to improving the lives of African Americans. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891, a religious order dedicated to serving African American and Native American communities. The order established schools, missions, and community centers across the United States, providing education and support to those in need.
Despite facing opposition and discrimination, Katharine remained steadfast in her commitment to social justice. She was a trailblazer for women in the Church, becoming the first American-born saint canonized in the 20th century. Her legacy continues to inspire Catholics and people of all faiths to work towards a more just and equitable society. She was cannonized on October 1, 2020 by Pope John Paul II.
Katharine’s heart attack at age 77 did not end her life of service. Although she could no longer actively participate in her ministry, she spent the next 20 years in quiet prayer. She died at the age of 96, leaving behind a powerful legacy that continues to inspire and challenge us to make a difference in the world around us.
As we reflect on the life and work of St. Katharine Drexel, we are reminded of the importance of standing up for what is right, even in the face of adversity. Her unwavering commitment to social justice serves as a powerful example for us all, and her work continues to inspire and challenge us to make a difference in the world around us.
Patron Saint of…
St. Katharine Drexel is the patron saint of racial justice, philanthropy, and the education of Native and African Americans.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life and work of St. Katharine Drexel, a true pioneer for social justice and equality. May her example inspire us to stand up for what is right, even in the face of adversity. Help us to follow in her footsteps, to serve those in need, and to work towards a more just and equitable society. We ask for St. Katharine’s intercession, that we may have the courage and determination to make a difference in the world around us. Amen.
Daily Mass Readings
The American Saints Activity series helps families learn more about American saints in hopes that they will look to them as role models. One of the offerings in the series is based on the life of St. Katharine Drexel.
To earn the patch, youth and adults must learn about the life of St. Katharine Drexel. Then they participate in their choice of activities based on what they have learned. For St. Katharine, the activities include discussing what we admire about St. Katharine Drexel, drawing a picture, and organizing a food drive, fund raising event for a charity, or a service project.
More information about the program and the complete requirements for the patch can be found at Katharine Drexel Activity for Families.
This series is promoted by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, but all youth and adults can do the activities and receive the patches, whether in Scouting or not, or Catholic or not.