During most of my life before entering religious life, I lived in a part of New Orleans that was conveniently located near several streetcar and bus lines. When we wanted to get to Audubon Park, a wonderful place of greenery with a lagoon, swimming pool, zoo, aquarium, rides for children, and plenty of place to play, we would take the Magazine Street streetcar. It cost 7 cents to ride all over town on the public transit system. That streetcar passed Xavier Prep School on its way uptown to the park. Then, when I went to high school, I took the Louisiana bus every morning and afternoon to get to and from Jesuit High School on South Carrollton Avenue. And that bus passed Xavier University. I was aware that those two schools were founded by a nun who was still alive in those days, but in retirement because of bad health, in Pennsylvania. Her name was Katharine Drexel, but she became “Mother Katharine” in religious life. She came from a very wealthy family in Philadelphia; her stepmother was a Bouvier, possibly related to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy who later became first lady of our country.
“Mother Katharine” was raised in a devoutly Catholic home; the family money was not allowed to turn the family members into hedonistic or materialistic people, but rather was seen as an opportunity to do good, as they knew God intended. Before her death (nearly 97 years after her birth), Mother Katharine had founded a congregation of religious women called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose primary purpose was the education of blacks and American Indians throughout our country. She then began to build schools in which her Sisters could teach. Those two schools that I passed on streetcars and busses during my childhood and youth were among the establishments founded by Katharine Drexel. Over the years, she spent about twenty million dollars of her inheritance on the education of her beloved “colored people” and American Indians.
Mother Katharine died on March 3, 1955. She had met two Popes during her long and very fruitful life: Blessed Pius IX and Leo XIII. And now, when Karol Wojtyla of Poland was elected Pope and took the name of John Paul II, he determined to bring her to the attention of the whole world because of the magnificent example of charity and evangelical spirit that motivated her. He beatified her in 1988 and then canonized her in 2000. So we now have in the chapel of their Sisters’s motherhouse in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, the tomb of another American saint, to whom her Sisters still refer with family affection as “Mother Katharine,” even though she is more properly called Saint Katharine Drexel.
She was very wealthy in this world according to the worldly concept of wealth connected with money and the things that money can buy. But imagine her wealth in heaven! Our Lord says to us in the gospel: Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. A devout life, nearly 97 years long, the foundation of a congregation of Sisters, and then some sixty schools, ranging from elementary schools to Xavier University in New Orleans. Imagine the welcome that she received in our Father’s house where she had laid up so much treasure! Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.