Sunday, February 28, 2010


"Charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.

"Charity is called the queen of the virtues because it unites man to God most perfectly and most permanently in the bonds of love. Charity is the divine friendship uniting man to God and man to fellow-man in the bonds of mutual affection. As we love those who are truly our friends, for their own sake and not because of any advantage to us, so through charity, we love God for His own sake and our neighbor because of God.

"Our neighbor includes all living human beings, even our enemies, the souls in purgatory, the blessed in heaven and the angels. When God gives us the infused virtue of charity, He gives us the means to make perfect acts of love, and the power to make these acts easily." (1)

Feast Day - March 3

Katharine Drexel was born in 1858 into a wealthy family and learned about the virtue of charity from her step-mother Emma Bouvier.  Emma believed that God had provided well for the Drexels in order for the family to help others in need.  From Katharine's childhood she helped Emma distribute food, medicine, clothing, and money to the poor in her birthplace of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (2)

She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by reading Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.   Back home, she visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions.

She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” (3)

Her concern for the needy increased as did her charity. After her father died and left her millions of dollars, she began helping Native American children to attend schools by underwriting their costs.  She entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1889.  In 1891 she  founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  The Sisters took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and also vowed to be "mother and servant" of Native Americans and African-Americans.

Soon the nuns built their first mission school for Native Americans in Santa Fee, New Mexico.  It was the first native school west of the Mississippi River. 145 missions and 12 schools for Native Americans and 50 schools for African-Americans followed. In 1915 Katharine founded Xavier University in New Orleans which was the first U.S. Catholic university for African-Americans.

St. Katharine lived a long life, dying in 1955.  She had suffered a severe heart attack in 1935 and led a prayer-filled life for the next 20 years while her  500 Sisters taught in 63 schools.  Her life spanned almost one century, and in her death her charity continued as the remainder of her estate was donated to charity.

 by Brother Lawrence Mary, M.I.C.M. Tertiary

The question remains: What virtues did St. Katharine practice heroically — virtues that should be imitated by the Faithful? For Americans, in particular, St. Katharine provides us with a challenging example of heroic poverty of spirit and charity. Katharine was born into one of the richest families in America. She had all of the advantages such a background would provide — luxurious accommodations, the finest food, a marvelous education, an unlimited ability to travel, excellent social connections and a proper introduction to high society as a debutante and all that goes with it. In short, she had everything that could have turned her into a wealthy, high-society, spoiled brat. Yet, her life was one that exemplified true poverty of spirit.

As described by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., in his book Divine Intimacy , “Poverty of spirit includes detachment not only from material goods, but also from moral and even spiritual goods. Whoever tries to assert his own personality, seeking the esteem and regard of creatures, who remains attached to his own will and ideas, or is too fond of his independence, is not poor in spirit, but is rich in himself, in his self-love and his pride.” As we have seen, throughout her life Katharine was entirely docile to the counsels and advice of her spiritual director. She felt herself to be an entirely inadequate instrument of God. In practice, she treated herself as the humblest of servants. She always took the meanest of accommodations, ate the simplest foods and gave all personal belongings away. From her last years we have the following touching example of her poverty. After she had become enfeebled and was bedridden, her primary source of visible consolation was a small holy card with a picture of Pope St. Pius X. She held it in her hands for hours every day while she prayed. Once, when a longtime acquaintance, Father William Markoe, came to call, she saw in his face something that troubled her. When he was leaving, she gave him her most precious possession — her little picture of St. Pius X. Such was Katharine’s spirit of poverty. Her entire life was a sacrifice for others; she held nothing back for herself.

Aside from her personal growth in sanctity, St. Katharine’s primary concern was the salvation of souls. Everything else was only a means to this end. She burned with the desire to provide the opportunity for all Americans to love the Blessed Sacrament as much as she did. Her true Charity was intense. An old Indian who had been educated by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and who was a close friend of St. Katharine for many decades until her death in 1955 said, “She never mixed two religions together. She always stressed the Catholic.” At her canonization, when there was much talk about Katharine being a “saint of the oppressed” and “advocate for social justice,” an elderly sister, who had taken care of St. Katharine during her last years, made this wise observation, “Her greatest accomplishment was her sanctity.”

St. Mary Katharine Drexel, pray for us!  (5)


“The patient and humble endurance of the cross—whatever nature it may be—is the highest work we have to do.”

“Oh, how far I am at 84 years of age from being an image of Jesus in his sacred life on earth!”  (6)

Father in Heaven, bless us with spiritual wealth as you blessed your servant St. Katherine Drexel.  may the example of this extraordinary women help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the uilding of a more just and fraternal world.  Amen.
(Prayer based on a tribute to St. Katharine by Pope John Paul II (7)

Ever-loving God, you called Saint Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel adn to bring the life of the Eucharist to the african-American and Native american peoples.  By her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed, and keep us undivided in love in the eucharistic community of your Church.  Grant this throught our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen  (Opening Prayer for March 3 Commemoration Mass)


If I should speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have charity, I have become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, yet do not have charity, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing. Charity is patient, is kins; charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   I Corinthians 13:1-7

So there abide faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. I Corinthians 13:13


1. Understanding the Catholic Faith, Rev. John A. O'Brien, Ph.D., 1955, pages 102-103
2. Extraordinary People, Ordinary Lives, Healing and Helping 4/22
3.  Saint of the Day w
4. Extraordinary People, Ordinary Livesop citw
6. Extraordinary People, Ordinary Lives, op cit
7. Op cit

5.      .



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