Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Bensalem, Bucks County
St. Katharine Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem, amongst many other charitable works.
Katharine Drexel was born in 1858 to Francis and Hannah Jane Drexel. Emma Bouvier became a mother to Drexel and her sisters after the mother's death. The Drexels raised their three daughters to be devout Catholics and even took them to Rome, where they met Pope Pius IX. As Katharine Drexel grew up, she became especially sympathetic towards minorities, so she founded the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People mission. She also was responsible for founding Xavier University and nearly 60 other missions and schools. She died in 1955 as Mother Katharine Drexel in St. Elizabeth's Covenant. In 1988, Drexel was beatified, and she was canonized in 2000.
St. Katharine Drexel was born on November 26, 1858, to Francis and Hannah Jane Drexel. In the biography The Golden Door, Katherine Burtonwrites that Francis Drexel rushed to his Philadelphia County home the day of his second daughter's birth when he received news that his wife Hannah was at great risk for childbirth complications. That Friday, the 26th of November, Katharine Mary was born, and only a few weeks later Hannah Jane Drexel passed away. Katherine Drexel and her older sister Elizabeth were left motherless until their father married Emma Bouvier, a woman who came from a wealthy, long established, Philadelphia family. As soon as the two returned from their honeymoon, they moved to a new house in the East Germantown neighborhood on Walnut Street.
Francis Drexel went back to work at F.M. Drexel Exchange Brokers, and Emma Bouvier Drexel educated the girls from their home. In 1863, Louise Drexel was born. With the heavy burden of three young children, Emma Bouvier Drexel's mother sent her a nanny, Johanna Ryan. Mr. and Mrs. Drexel, as well as Johanna Ryan, brought the girls up as devout Catholics. Mrs. Drexel set up an oratory for prayer while Mr. Drexel serenaded the family with his music. The family became especially close with Dr. (Bishop) James O'Connor through their parish, St. Michel. O'Connor inspired Katharine Drexel and became her mentor. When she was 15-years-old, she traveled to Rome with her family and was invited to an audience with Pope Pius IX, which was an awe-inspiring experience for her. Katharine Drexel also comes from a long line of founders and people who believed in philanthropy.
When her Aunt Mary passed away, John Lankenau founded Mary Drexel Home for the aged and a hospital for children in memory of his deceased wife. Anthony Drexel, Francis's brother and partner, founded Drexel University in 1891. Catholic Online discusses Katherine Drexel's particular compassion for the under-appreciated Indians and colored people of the time. She thought prejudice was outlandish, so she founded the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People in Bensalem. She acquired an enormous fortune from her father, and between the age of 33 until her death, she donated $20 million to the organization. L'Osservatore Romano describes how, during an audience with Pope Leo XII in 1889, Katherine Drexel requested a congregation to staff some of the schools and missions she was financing. His Holiness suggested that she become a missionary. She then began her training in religious life with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In 1894, she helped open the first mission school for Indian Americans in New Mexico. Following this, she helped open a series of mission schools for Indians west of the Mississippi and mission schools for minorities in the south. She also founded Xavier University in New Orleans in 1915. The Vatican website explains that throughout the course of her life, Katherine Drexel opened, staffed, and directly supported almost 60 missions and schools.
Mother Katharine Drexel died on March 3, 1955, at the age of 97, from pneumonia. She died at St. Elizabeth's Convent in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania. At the time of her death, she was surrounded by sisters and priests praying for the repose of her soul. Her body is entombed at the St. Katharine Drexel Shrine in Bensalem. In 1964, people began pushing for Mother Katharine Drexel's canonization, but the church requires two miraculous intercessions for one to enter sainthood. On November 20, 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Katharine Drexel by bestowing the title of "Blessed" upon her after her first documented miracle. Ron Goldwyn in the Philadelphia Daily News reports that Amy Wall, a young deaf girl, was mysteriously cured of a permanent deafness that she was born with. Her mother had prayed for the intercession of Mother Katharine Drexel. After much research by the Catholic Church, Katharine Drexel was canonized as St. Katharine Drexel on October 1, 2000.
Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People
Xavier University (Louisiana)
Associated Press. "Philadelphia Native May Be Sainted Blessed Katharine Drexel Came From Affluence and Used her Wealth to Help Others." York Daily Record 4 Mar. 1998: A2.
Burton, Katherine. The Golden Door: The Life of Katharine Drexel. New York: P.J. Kennedy & Sons, 1957.
Goldwyn, Ron. "Miracle Girl: Because Amy Wall Can Hear, Katherine Drexel Will Become A Saint." Philadelphia Daily News 28 Jan. 2000: 3.