Monday, December 15, 2008

Katharine Drexel

On October 1, 2000 Pope John Paul II canonized Katharine Mary Drexel who became only the second recognized American-born saint in the Roman Catholic Church - and the only official saint with a Brethren mother.

And now for the rest of the story.

A young Brethren woman, Hannah Jane Langstroth, was raised and baptized by the German Baptist Brethren in 1850. She married into the wealthy Drexel family of Philadelphia to Francis Drexel, a banker and partner of J.P. Morgan. In 1858 Hannah Jane Langstroth Drexel gave birth to their second daughter Mary Katharine. Thirty-four days later Hannah Jane died and was buried in the Germantown Brethren cemetary. She would not live to see the wonderful ministry of her infant daughter.

Although Katharine never knew her mother and was devoted to her step-mother. According to one biographer, Katharine and her sister Elizabeth regularly visited in the home of their mother's family in Germantown where they played with their cousins and learned to crochet from their grandmother, who wore the Brethren plain dress. Who knows what else they learned from the Brethren side of their heritage.

At the age of thirty, Katharine gave up her social position as the member of a prominent family and chose a religious vocation. She founded the Blessed Sacrament Sisters for Indians and Colored People. For many years she chose to live on less than a dollar a day while she poured more than a thousand dollars a day into the charitable and educational projects she initiated and supported. Over a period of sixty-four years, she contributed to these causes between twelve and seventeen million dollars from her inheritance.

Katharine traveled widely in order to know personally the living conditions of American Indians in the West and blacks in the South. Her contributions helped in the establishment of Xavier U., an institution in New Orleans aiding the education of blacks.

While Katherine was often called saintly, an official petition that she be regarded as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church was introduced in 1964 by Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia, less than ten years after her death. When canonization finally came on October 1, 2000, Katherine became the first official saint with a Brethren mother.

Sources: The Brethren Encylopedia