In Honor Of Katharine Drexel

Katharine Drexel was born to one of America’s wealthiest and most distinguished families. (Her grandfather was the senior partner to a young J. P. Morgan; her distant nieces included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.) Katharine led a pampered childhood, and few expected more from her than a world tour, marriage, children, and fashionable pursuits.
When their parents died, the three Drexel sisters inherited the bulk of their massive estate. To the disbelief of Philadelphia society, Katharine decided to become a Catholic nun. Drexel entered religious life in 1889, and two years later she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Negroes and Indians.

The bulk of the order’s efforts went into developing a network of 145 missions, with 12 schools for Native Americans and 50 schools for African Americans throughout the American South and West. These Catholic schools were staffed by laypersons, often attached to a local church or chapel, and offered religious instruction and vocational training. Unlike many religious mission schools, students did not have to be or become Catholic to enroll.

In 1915, with a $750,000 grant from Drexel, the Sisters founded Xavier University in New Orleans. The only historically black Catholic college in the United States, Xavier was designed to train teachers who could staff the order’s burgeoning network of schools. Much of the cost of opening these schools, as well as Xavier, was covered by Drexel’s personal fortune, and it is estimated (there is no official figure) that she gave nearly $20 million during her lifetime to support the work of her order. Katharine’s travels and work continued until 1938, when a stroke left her almost completely immobile and forced her to give up leadership of the Sisters.

In Honor Of Katharine Drexel
Katharine Drexel was born to one of America’s wealthiest and most distinguished families. (Her grandfather was the senior partner to a young J. P. Morgan; her distant nieces included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.) Katharine led a pampered childhood, and few expected more from her than a world tour, marriage, children, and fashionable pursuits.
When their parents died, the three Drexel sisters inherited the bulk of their massive estate. To the disbelief of Philadelphia society, Katharine decided to become a Catholic nun. Drexel entered religious life in 1889, and two years later she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Negroes and Indians.

The bulk of the order’s efforts went into developing a network of 145 missions, with 12 schools for Native Americans and 50 schools for African Americans throughout the American South and West. These Catholic schools were staffed by laypersons, often attached to a local church or chapel, and offered religious instruction and vocational training. Unlike many religious mission schools, students did not have to be or become Catholic to enroll.

In 1915, with a $750,000 grant from Drexel, the Sisters founded Xavier University in New Orleans. The only historically black Catholic college in the United States, Xavier was designed to train teachers who could staff the order’s burgeoning network of schools. Much of the cost of opening these schools, as well as Xavier, was covered by Drexel’s personal fortune, and it is estimated (there is no official figure) that she gave nearly $20 million during her lifetime to support the work of her order. Katharine’s travels and work continued until 1938, when a stroke left her almost completely immobile and forced her to give up leadership of the Sisters.

In October 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Drexel, the second native-born American to be named a saint. The ceremony would likely have pained Katharine Drexel, servant of the poor, whose only request when Xavier University was founded was that the school make no mention of her donation, and who, at the college’s dedication, sat in the back of the room, quiet and unnoticed.

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