Friday, February 05, 2010

Book Review: Saint Katharine Drexel: Friend of the Oppressed

We purchased this book at the St. Katharine Drexel shrine in suburban Philadelphia. My oldest daughter, who is six, was interested in learning more about St. Katharine's life, so we sat down together a few nights each week and I read it out loud to her. The book caught her imagination immediately and never let go.

From St. Katharine's girlhood with her sisters, to their summers in the country, to their various family trips, the author captures the spirit of family life in the Drexel household with good humor that makes them come across as real people, not unapproachable models of sanctity. My daughter and I particularly enjoyed the stories of their various joys and mishaps while on their European trips. What comes through unmistakably is that the Drexel girls, though surrounded by every material comfort the world could offer, never lost their focus on God, performing their devotions, and enriching their spiritual lives.

Without doubt, this book shows the Drexels as extremely wealthy--which in fact they were. However, this is contrasted with the family's unfailing charity, starting with their practice of the Dorcas where those in need came to the backdoor of the Drexel house. Of course, the ultimate example of that generosity was Katharine herself. Like her hero St. Francis of Assisi, Katharine gave up everything--even millions of dollars--to serve God. One of the most poignant passages for me was toward the end of the book where Mother Katharine is described as wearing her habits until they were threadbare. Having been to her shrine, examples of her austerity abound there, too--such as the tiny pencils, sharpened down to mere nubs, that she used until they could no longer be held.

So in short, this is a charming story about an inspiring modern saint. If you want to encourage a love of Christian charity and an openness to the religious life in your children, read this book with them.

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