Friday, March 03, 2017

March 3 ~ Feast of Saint Katharine Drexel

Mother Drexel by Lori Kauffmann
in The American Martyrology.
Katharine Mary Drexel was quite an unlikely candidate for sainthood. Though brought up in a devoutly Catholic family, Katharine's youth was one of wealth and luxury. Daughter of one of Philadelphia's elite families, she was expected to do what most girls of her age and status did which was marry the scion of another wealthy family.

When she first revealed her inclination to the religious life, both her parents and her spiritual director, Father James O'Connor (later the first bishop of Omaha, Nebraska) were opposed. Katharine herself had doubts. In one of her notebooks, she made a list of pros and cons. The cons included:
  • I do not know how I could bear the privations and poverty of the religious life. I have never been deprived of luxuries.
  • I hate community life. I should think it maddening to come in constant contact with many different old maidish dispositions. 
Despite her misgivings, God's call won out in the end in a big way. Here is the rest of the story, as told in Religious Orders of Women in the United States (1913), compiled by Elinor Tong Dehey:
Her heart was yearning to embrace the religious life, and if she had followed her own desires she would probably have chosen a contemplative community, and not as might have been expected an active one. Bishop O'Connor still deferred giving Miss Drexel a decision in regard to her vocation. All the pent up longing of her heart was to give herself to God without delay. The more she prayed, the greater became the attraction to leave all for Christ. Bishop O'Connor had always in mind the new Congregation, and fearful of acting hastily had allowed time to elapse before determining to unfold his views to Miss Drexel.

In January, 1887, Miss Drexel and her sister were travelling abroad; while in Rome, Leo XIII. received them in private audience. Miss Katharine, in speaking to His Holiness, mentioned the great need of missionaries among the Indians, and in the simplicity of her soul begged the Holy Father to send some devoted missionary communities to labor among them. With the smile for which he was remarkable lighting up that singularly clear eye by which he seemed to pierce the future, and with a voice the tones of which touched the innermost depths of Miss Drexel's soul, he replied: "Why not become a missionary yourself, my child?"

Coming at the moment when she was struggling between the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit and the prohibitory mandate of her director, this seemed, as undoubtedly it was, the voice of God Himself. Shortly after this, Bishop O'Connor announced to Miss Drexel what he believed to be the will of God in her regard. Divine Providence, he thought, wished to make use of her to form the nucleus of a new society for the conversion of the Indian and negro races. In obedience to the direction of Bishop O'Connor, Miss Drexel entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy, in Pittsburg, Penn., May 6, 1889. St. Mary's Pittsburg, first House of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States, was destined to be the cradle of the new community. It was not long before Miss Drexel was joined by others who wished to share her mission labors, and with her to pre- pare themselves for the work which God was unfolding. Under the direction of the saintly Mother McAuley, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament began their novitiate.
This scene is described quite poignantly in Ellen Tarry's Saint Katharine Drexel: Friend of the Oppressed. Part of the Vision Series by Ignatius Press, this book is an excellent short biography of Mother Drexel, suitable for kids ages nine and up. As an adult, I found it edifying as well, and wrote a review of it several years ago that may be found here.

Also notable for kids, if you can find a copy, is Katie--The Young Life of Mother Katharine Drexel, which I reviewed here.

No comments: