Missionary Saints – St. Katharine Drexel

What would you do if you won the lottery? It is fun to imagine all the things we would do if we won the Powerball jackpot. Katharine Drexel, the second American born Saint, didn’t have to imagine what she would do if she came into a boat load of money. Born in Philadelphia in 1858, she and her two sisters inherited their father’s massive wealth. In current dollars the estate would be worth about $400 million. Saint Katharine Drexel took her third of the estate and did the greatest good for those with the greatest needs. For this she was canonized by Saint Pope John Paul II in the year 2000, forty-five years after her death on March 3, 1955.

As an American she was appalled by the injustices endured by Native Americans. She was so deeply moved by their suffering that on a trip to Rome she begged Pope Leo XIII to send missionaries to Wyoming to serve the Indians. Pope Leo XIII told her to go to them herself. So she did. She met with the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to the Native American missions which by 1942 resulted in fifty missions in sixteen states.

She also was painfully aware of the discrimination and violence experienced by Blacks in the United States. Despite intense harassment by segregationists, including the burning of one of her schools in Pennsylvania, she established a system of Black Catholic schools in thirteen states in addition to forty mission centers. The education provided by Saint Katharine Drexel and her sisters offered genuine economic opportunity for those who were most disenfranchised in American society. But more than that, by sharing the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, she provided a horizon of hope, teaching that each of us is a child of God and an heir to His kingdom. Her catechetical efforts enabled the students in her schools to realize that they inherited a fortune far greater than that which she had received from her father.

Saint Katharine is a good Lenten missionary saint for us. She was able to see Christ crucified in the suffering. She often said “The patient and humble endurance of the cross – whatever it may be – is the highest work we have to do.” May her words inspire us today to embrace the crosses of our missionary efforts as the greatest work of our lives. For the Cross of Christ is truly more precious than any Powerball jackpot!