Katharine Drexel

St. Katharine Drexel
Born(1858-11-26)November 26, 1858
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMarch 3, 1955(1955-03-03) (aged 96)
Bensalem, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
BeatifiedNovember 20, 1988 by Pope John Paul II
CanonizedOctober 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II
Major shrineCathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, U.S.
FeastMarch 3
PatronagePhilanthropy, racial justice
Entrance to the Drexel shrine in Bensalem, PA
Entrance to the Drexel shrine in Bensalem, PA

Katharine Drexel, SBS (born Catherine Mary Drexel; November 26, 1858 – March 3, 1955) was an American heiress, philanthropist, religious sister, educator, and foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She was the second person born in what is now the United States to be canonized as a saint and the first one born a U.S. citizen.

Early life

Katharine Mary Drexel was born Catherine Marie Drexel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858, to Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Langstroth. She had an older sister, Elizabeth.[1] Her family owned a considerable banking fortune, and 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.

Langstroth died five weeks after Katherine's birth and Anthony Joseph and his wife Ellen cared for Katherine and Elizabeth for the next two years. Her father married Emma Bouvier in 1860, brought his older children home, and had a third daughter, Louise, in 1863.[1]

The girls grew up in a wealthy and religious household with charitable principles. Emma would regularly distribute food and clothing at her home to people.[2]

The family lived on a 90-acre estate in Torresdale named St. Michel in honor of St. Michael the Archangel.[3] Rev. James O'Connor was pastor of St. Dominic's in nearby Holmesburg, Philadelphia and served as chaplain to the Society of the Sacred Heart at their motherhouse at Eden Hall in Torresdale where Katherine's maternal aunt was mother superior. In 1876, he was appointed vicar apostolic of Nebraska, an area that covered Nebraska, northeastern Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of Utah, Montana and the Dakotas. He was consecrated titular Bishop of Dibona at the chapel at Eden Hall.[4] Katherine was awakened to the plight of indigenous American people during a family trip to the Western United States.

Religious work

Drexel decided to establish a religious congregation to address the needs of Native Americans and African-Americans in the southern, western and southwestern United States. Having completed her postulancy with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburg, in February 1891 she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She also financed more than 60 missions and schools around the United States, as well as founding Xavier University of Louisiana[5] – the only historically Black and Catholic university in the United States.


Drexel is one of only a few American saints and the second American-born saint (Elizabeth Ann Seton was a natural-born US citizen, born in New York City in 1774 and canonized in 1975).

Drexel was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988, when her first miracle through prayer—healing the severe ear infection of teenage Robert Gutherman in 1974—was accepted.[6] She was canonized on October 1, 2000,[7] when her 1994 miracle of reversing congenital deafness in 2-year old Amy Wall was recognized.[8]

The Vatican cited a fourfold legacy of Drexel:

Her feast day is observed on March 3, the anniversary of her death. She is buried in Cornwells Heights, Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania.

Katharine Drexel's tomb at Philadelphia Cathedral
Katharine Drexel's tomb at Philadelphia Cathedral

The "Saint Katharine Drexel Mission Center and National Shrine" was formerly located at St. Elizabeth's Convent in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. The Mission Center offered retreat programs, historic site tours, days of prayer, presentations about Saint Katharine Drexel, as well as lectures and seminars related to her legacy. The convent was subsequently sold and in August, 2018, Drexel's remains were transferred to a new shrine at the.Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

A second-class relic of Drexel can be found inside the altar of the Mary chapel at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, North Carolina,[10] and in the Day Chapel of Saint Katharine Drexel Parish in Sugar Grove, Illinois.


St. Benedict the Moor School, St. Augustine, Florida (c.1898), paid for by St. Katharine Drexel
St. Benedict the Moor School, St. Augustine, Florida (c.1898), paid for by St. Katharine Drexel

Numerous Catholic parishes, schools, and churches bear the name of St. Katharine Drexel.



Schools St. Katharine Drexel founded or funded include (but are not limited to):

Schools named in her honor include:

Churches and chapels

The choir loft window in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Sioux, Saint Joseph's Indian School, Chamberlain, South Dakota, was donated by the Drexel Family.


Drexel Avenue, Oak Creek, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. (Drexel Towne Centre, Oak Creek, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.)


See also


  1. ^ a b "Timeline", Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
  2. ^ "The Other Drexel: Louise Drexel Morrell". Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. 2010-04-09. Retrieved 2023-01-03.
  3. ^ "St. Katharine Drexel", Philanthropy Roundtable
  4. ^ "Rev. James O'Connor" (obit), San Francisco Call, May 28, 1890Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ "XU Quick Facts". Xavier University of Louisiana. Retrieved December 13, 2010.
  6. ^ "This Man's Ear Was Miraculously Healed, Thanks to St. Katharine Drexel". NCR. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  7. ^ "Saint Katharine Drexel", Franciscan Media
  8. ^ "Pope declares miracle, clears way for sainthood Girl's cure is 2nd to be attributed to Mother Drexel". Deseret News. 2000-01-29. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  9. ^ "KATHARINE DREXEL (1858-1955)", Holy See
  10. ^ St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church, Raleigh, North Carolina
  11. ^ St. Katherine Drexel Parish, Cape Coral, Florida
  12. ^ SKD Parish Beaver Dam, WI
  13. ^ St. Joseph's Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, Columbia, Virginia Archived 2014-07-11 at archive.today, richmonddiocese.org; accessed October 19, 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d https://www.bia.gov/sites/default/files/dup/inline-files/appendix_a_b_school_listing_profiles_508.pdf
  15. ^ "History".
  16. ^ Pope, John. "Xavier University chapel will 'create an air of beauty and mystery'". Times Picayune. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  17. ^ David Leighton, "Street Smarts: Generous nun the namesake for Drexel Road," Arizona Daily Star, March 14, 2014
  18. ^ "FLP – Katharine Drexel Branch". Free Library of Philadelphia.

Further reading