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Women of the Hall

Year Honored: 2011
Birth: 1858 - Death: 1955
Born In: Pennsylvania,
Died In: Pennsylvania,
Achievements: Humanities
Educated In: Pennsylvania
Schools Attended:
Worked In: Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia, Arizona, New York, Louisiana, Washington, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, Tennessee

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St. Katharine Drexel

A missionary who dedicated her life and fortune to aid Native Americans and African Americans, Saint Katharine Drexel is only the second recognized
American-born saint. 

Katharine Drexel was born into a prominent family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1858.  Her mother died shortly after Katharine’s birth, and her father remarried two years later, providing Katharine with a new mother.  Katharine and her sisters were raised in a loving family atmosphere permeated by deep faith, and were taught that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need.

When Katharine was growing up, her family would open their home to serve the needs of the poor three days a week, and when Katharine was old enough, she learned to assist her mother.  Later, when the family purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pennsylvania, Katharine began teaching Sunday school classes.  It was there that she met Reverend James O’Connor, later the Bishop of Omaha, who became her spiritual director.

When Katharine was in her twenties, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.  Shortly thereafter in 1885, her father died suddenly, and Katharine and her sisters inherited the income from his estate.  Throughout 1887 and 1888, Katharine was introduced to the plight of Native Americans and visited several remote reservations with Monsignor Joseph Stephan and Bishop O’Connor.  After witnessing the poverty endured by Native Americans, Katharine began building schools and providing food, clothing and financial support to the reservations. 

In 1889, Bishop O’Connor urged Katharine to found a congregation to work with Native Americans and African Americans.  Although she initially hesitated, through prayer, Katharine eventually accepted this as her vocation and pronounced her vows as the first Sister of the Blessed Sacrament (1891).  During her lifetime, Katharine and her order founded more than sixty missions and schools, including Xavier University of Louisiana.  Today, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament remains a religious order devoted to the education and care of Native Americans and African Americans. 

Saint Katharine was beatified in 1988, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.

Additional Sources:
National Women's Hall Event in Chicago