Saint Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia in 1858 and died in 1955. She was a devoted nun and missionary. She is the patron saint of social justice and racial justice.
Saint Katharine used her personal fortune to fund schools for Native Americans and African Americans. Saint Katharine became the second native-born American to become a saint, following St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Growing up her father, Francis Drexel, was a business partner of financier J.P. Morgan. Her mother, Hannah Drexel, died a month after Drexel's birth. In 1860, her father married again to Emma Bouvier. In addition to their great wealth, her parents were known for their philanthropic endeavors.
Drexel was raised as a young heiress in Philadelphia, and was educated at home. However, having traveled throughout the United States, she was aware of the difficult circumstances faced by Native Americans and African Americans across the country. She wanted to use her wealth to help others.
During a trip to Europe in 1887, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to recommend a religious order that could send missionaries to the institutions she was funding. He suggested that Drexel might undertake the missionary work herself.
In 1889, Drexel entered religious life under the training of the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh. She with the help of other nuns founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People (later known simply as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament). The order would use Drexel's fortune to fund its work.
Drexel and some of her fellow sisters set up a school for Native Americans in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1894. This was followed by the creation of other schools throughout the Southwest, including ones on reservations. Drexel's order also opened many schools for African-American children. She founded a secondary school for African Americans in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1915. Ten years later, the institution became Xavier University.
Drexel suffered a heart attack in 1935; two years later, she gave up the leadership of her order. She died at the age of 96 on March 3, 1955, in Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania. During her life she had given approximately 20 million dollars to help people in need.
Drexel's order had more than 500 members at the time of her death. Under her leadership, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament had opened 145 missions, 49 elementary schools and 12 high schools. Today, the order continues its missionary and educational work.