Challenging a Camel
“You’re too rich to be a nun.” That’s what everyone told Kate Drexel. Even the Bishop discouraged her dozens of times when she wrote him for advice.
Even though no one thought Kate should become a nun, they weren’t surprised that Kate grew up wanting to do good for the less fortunate. Her parents were philanthropists, very rich people who used their money to help others. When Kate was growing up, her family lived in a mansion on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. They spent their summers at their country estate called Michel. Even though Kate and her two sisters lived in luxury, they learned to share.
Little Katie Drexel loved to keep diaries and she wrote about helping her mom with her Dorcas project. Katie liked the Bible story about Dorcas who made clothes for the poor. When Dorcas died everyone was so sad that St. Peter brought her back to life. Like Dorcas, Kate’s mother provided clothes for the poor. She mended old clothes and bought new ones. Every week she invited poor people to the Drexel backyard to pick out clothes. Kate and her sisters learned to mend and make old clothes look as good as new. They helped their parents pass out food to families who were “down on their luck.”
When they got a little older Kate and Louise and Elizabeth started a Sunday school at St. Michel. Sometimes as many as fifty children came.
Even though Kate never had to worry about balancing a regular budget, she always tried to balance her spiritual budget. When she was a teenager, she kept track of her resolutions and each month rechecked to see if she’d kept them. Once when she was trying to learn to be more patient, she wrote, “I have not kept up on this, but I will try again.”
When Kate was 18, her friend Bishop O’Connor wrote her from Nebraska. He told her about the Native Americans who lived in the west. When she learned of their suffering, she wanted to stop it. She felt sad that they had been so badly treated. She wanted to do something to show that she cared. She wrote her first check to help one of the Bishop’s missions there. After that she wrote lots of other checks to help the Native Americans..
After her mother and father died, Kate had even more money to give to good causes, but she was not satisfied. She really wanted to be a nun. Her friend the Bishop still said no. He asked her to go to Europe to see if she could recruit some teaching nuns. While she was there, Kate got to visit the Pope at the Vatican. She told him of the problems of the Native Americans and of how much missionaries were needed. The pope listened carefully. Then he said, “Why not become a missionary yourself.”
Kate wrote home to Father O’Connor that she was going to enter a convent. She asked for his blessing. What could the Bishop say?
The news that Kate Drexel was going to become a nun made the front page of the Philadelphia papers. Reporters even tried to follow her when she moved to Pittsburg to begin her training. Life was different in the convent. Kate exchanged her expensive clothes for the simple black dress the novices wore. At 32 she was older than most of the women at Sisters of Mercy. She had some special privileges. She got to write more letters and she could receive visitors.
Six years later when Kate made her final vows, she became Mother Katharine. Because she hadn’t been able to find a religious order devoted just to helping Native Americans, Kate decided to start her own order. Her name was so famous she soon had lots of help.
Kate’s younger sister, Louise had been spending her inheritance helping African Americans in the South. Kate believed in justice for all. She decided she could not ignore the plight of any people who had been persecuted.
During the next sixty years, Kate worked hard to eliminate prejudice. Her forty-five grade schools, twelve high schools and Xavier University prepared Native, and African Americans to take their rightful places in society. She spent more than thirty million dollars of to help others. She gave not only her money. She gave of herself.
Jesus once said that it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. When she died in 1955, Kate surely entered God’s heavenly kingdom. She left us a shining example of sharing.
Born: November 26, 1858 Died: March 3, 1955
Feast Day March 3
Notable: Founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She set up schools and missions for Indain and African American children.
Canonized By: Pope John Paul II
Saint Katharine Drexel Prayer
Ever loving God, you called Saint Katharine Drexel
to teach the message of the Gospel and
to bring the life of the Eucharist to
the Black and Native American peoples.
By her prayers and example,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and oppressed.
Draw us all into the Eucharistic community
of your Church, that we may be one in you.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen