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March 3

St Katharine Drexel - March 3

Saint Katharine Drexel

Nun, Educator, Foundress

Model of Charity

(1858 – 1955)

“If we wish to serve God and love our neighbor well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them.

Saint Katharine Drexel

Saint’s Life Story

Her Family

Katharine Mary Drexel was born Catherine Marie Drexel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States on November 26, 1858, to Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Langstroth. Hannah died five weeks after her baby’s birth. For two years, Katharine and her sister, Elizabeth, were cared for by their aunt and uncle, Ellen and Anthony Drexel. When Francis married Emma Bouvier in 1860, he brought his two daughters home. A third daughter, Louise, was born in 1863. The children grew up in a loving family atmosphere permeated by deep faith. Her family were extremely wealthy railroad entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Her uncle Anthony Joseph Drexel was the founder of Drexel University in Philadelphia. She was a distant cousin of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on her father’s side.

Her Early Life

Katharine and her sisters were educated at home by tutors. They had the added advantage of touring parts of the United States and Europe with their parents. By word and example, her parents taught Katharine and her sisters that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. Three afternoons a week her mother opened the doors of their home to distribute food and clothing to those in need. When the girls were old enough, they assisted their mother. 

When Francis purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pa., Katharine and Elizabeth taught Sunday school classes for the children of employees and neighbors. The local pastor, Rev. James O’Connor (who later became Bishop), became a family friend and Katharine’s spiritual director.

Her Sisters

Katharine’s older sister Elizabeth founded a Pennsylvania trade school for orphans. Her younger sister, Louise, 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. The three siblings – Elizabeth, Katharine and Louise — were inseparable. They traveled out west together where they encountered Native Americans who lived on reservations and learned of their plight. These travels instilled within Katharine the desire to alleviate the sufferings of poor Indians and Blacks.

Dramatic Changes

As a teenager, Katharine had considered convent life, but in a letter to Bishop James O’Connor, stated that: she couldn’t bear separation from her family, she hated community life and the thought of living with “old-maidish” dispositions, did not like to be alone, and could not part with luxuries. At that time, the Bishop discouraged her from entering the convent.

When she visited Pope Leo XIII in Rome, Katharine asked him to send missionaries to the Native American missions in Wyoming that she as a lay person was financing. He surprised by responding, “Why don’t you go? Why don’t you become one?” She visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux chief, and began her systematic aid to Indian missions, eventually spending millions of the family fortune. 

However, after she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, Katharine began to realize that all the money her family had could not purchase protection from suffering or death. It was then that her life changed dramatically.

Took Religious Vows

As time passed, Katharine became more and more convinced that she should become a religious. She once again wrote the Bishop, stating that she wanted to give herself completely to the Lord, adding, “The world cannot give me peace.” Thus, Katharine made the decision to give herself totally to God by her service to African Americans and Native Indian Americans. On February 12, 1891, Katharine took vows as a religious.  She took the name Mother Katharine, dedicating herself and her inheritance to the needs of oppressed Native Americans and African-Americans in the southern, western and southwestern United States, and was a vocal advocate of racial tolerance.  

Foundress – Sisters of the Blessed Sacraments

Joined by 13 other women, Katharine 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 to further her cause. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini advised Mother Katharine on getting the Order’s rule approved in Rome. She received the approval in 1913.

Her Works

Katharine established many ministries, founding schools for African Americans and native Indian Americans, Between 1891 and 1935 she led her order in the founding and maintenance of almost 60 schools and missions, located primarily in the American West and Southwest. Her most important achivement was the founding of New Orleans’ Xavier University, the only historically Black Catholic college in the United States. By 1942, Katharine had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, 40 mission centers, 23 rural schools and 50 Native American missions.

Her Death

At age 77, Katharine suffered a severe heart attack and spent the next twenty years of her life in prayer  and contemplation until her death at 96 on March 3, 1955 at the mother-house of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, USA. Katherine is one of the few American saints and the second American-born saint after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

St Katharine Drexel Shrine - Bensalem, PA

The Saint Katharine Drexel Mission Center and National Shrine is located in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. In August, 2018, Drexel’s remains were transferred to a new shrine at the.Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

Four-Fold Legacy

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

– 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.

Born:                   November 26, 1858 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Died:                   March 3, 1955 at the mother-house of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, USA

Beatified:           November 20, 1988 by Pope John Paul II

Canonized:        October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II

Feast Day:         March 3

Patron Saint:    Philanthrophy; Racial Justice



Saint Katharine Drexel, from her early youth to her death, knew the importance of serving the poor. She started the first United States  Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Xavier University, along with 50 Native American Missions and 23 rural schools. She truly lived out what she said – “If we wish to serve God and love our neighbor well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them.”

Do you take time to serve to those who are down on their luck or marginalized? Spend a few quiet minutes with the Lord. Ask him for help finding ways to minister to those around you who are most in need.


Saint Katharine Drexel, intercede before God to assist all who seek your aid to overcome the temptation to love inordinately the things of this world. Your holy detachment from wealth and comfort freed you for a life dedicated to prayer and service to African Americans and Native Americans. May we have that same detachment and that same commitment to God to serve those in need around us.

Saint Katharine Drexel, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

Aleteia – Prayer that St. Katharine Drexel’s example will inspire us

All Saints & Martyrs – Blessed Katharine Drexel – Foundress

All Saints & Martyrs – Novena of Saint Katharine Drexel

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 3 March – St Katharine Drexel

Angelus – The historically black Catholic university founded by a saint by Mary Farrow Catholic News Agency

A Reason2BCatholic – Saints Alive! | St. Katharine Drexel

Catholic Culture  – St. Katharine Drexel

Catholic Exchange – Learning About Detachment From St. Katharine Drexel

Catholic Fire – St. Katharine Drexel: Model of Charity

Catholic Ireland – Mar 3 – St Katharine Drexel 1858-1955

Catholic News Agency – St. Katharine Drexel Feast Day: Mar 03

Catholic Online – St. Katharine Drexel

CatholicSaints.Info – Saint Katharine Drexel

Franciscan Media – The Legacy of Saint Katharine Drexel by Peter Phinney Jr

Loyola Press – Saint Katharine Drexel, 1858-1955 Feast day March 3

My Catholic Life – Saint Katharine Drexel, Virgin

Saints, Feast, FamilyKatharine Drexel’s Story

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint Katharine Drexel (1858-1955)

Saint of the Day – March 3 St. Katharine Drexel

Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament – St. Katharine Drexel

uCatholic – Saint Katharine Drexel

Wikipedia – Katharine Drexel

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