March 3 is the feast day of St. Katharine Drexel.
Katharine Drexel was born in 1858 into a wealthy, devout family in Philadelphia. She was educated by private tutors, which was rare for girls at the time. During a family trip to the western United States, Katharine was exposed to the plight of Native Americans, and she decided she wanted to do something to help. When her father died a few years later, Katharine used much of her inheritance to support the work of Catholic missions to Native Americans.
In 1887, she and her sisters were granted a private audience in Rome with Pope Leo XIII. Katharine used this opportunity to ask for his help supporting the missions in the US. The pope agreed, but to everyone’s surprise, he asked Katharine, “What about you? What are you going to do?”
“Those words – ‘What about you?’ – were addressed to a young person, a young woman with high ideals, and they changed her life. They made her think of the immense work that had to be done, and to realize that she was being called to do her part,” Pope Francis explained in 2015.
After consultation with her religious director, Katharine decided to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to Native Americans and African Americans. She founded a new religious order, the Sister of the Blessed Sacrament.
Before her death, St. Katharine and her Sisters established 145 missions, 50 schools for African Americans, and 12 schools for Native Americans. Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically black Catholic college in the US, was also founded by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Today, the order continues to pursue their original apostolate, working with African Americans and Native Americans in 21 states and Haiti.
Get to know the patron saint of philanthropy and racial justice through this playlist inspired by her life — featuring artists Common and Pentatonix, and themes of change and justice.