1858 – 1955
Katharine, the second daughter of Francis Anthony and Hannah Langstroth, was born on November 26, 1858 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Katharine’s mother, Hannah, passed away about one month after her birth.
A few years later, Katharine’s father, a wealthy and prominent banker and philanthropist, married Emma Bouvier – a distant aunt to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onasis. Emma was a deeply religious woman. Three years later, Emma gave birth to her own child, a third daughter whom they named Louise. The deeply religious couple taught their children that wealth was meant to be shared with others, particularly the poor.
The three siblings – Elizabeth, Katharine and Louise were inseparable. They traveled out west together where they encountered Native American Indians who lived on reservations and learned of their plight. These travels instilled within Katharine the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the Indians along with the oppressed among the Black people. When she visited Pope Leo XIII in Rome, Katharine asked him to send missionaries to the Indian missions that she as a lay person was financing. He surprised her by responding, “Why don’t you go? Why don’t you become one?”
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.
As time passed, Katharine became more and more convinced that she should become a religious. It was a battle that was to last for several years. 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 Black and Native Americans.
On February 12, 1891, Katharine took vows as a religious, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. St. Katharine established many ministries, founding schools for Black and Native Americans, including, Xavier University, the only predominantly Black Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States.
In 1935, Katharine suffered a severe heart attack and spent the next twenty years of her life in prayer until her death on March 3, 1955. Her cause for beatification was introduced in 1966; she was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on January 26, 1987, by whom she was also beatified on November 20, 1988. She was canonized on October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II, to become only the second recognized American-born saint (after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1975).
“The patient and humble endurance of the cross – whatever nature it may be – is the highest work we have to do.”
“What likeness is there between me and my Mother? Do I try to be like her, in her love for Jesus? In her devotion for the cause for which he died – the salvation of souls – in her absolute submission to the will of God, in her patient suffering?”
Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, too, let me stand at the foot of the cross with you, to learn its lesson and to learn to be like the Mother of Sorrows. Amen.
To learn more about St. Katharine Drexel, go here.