March 3 – The work of Mother Drexel

February 28, 2019

Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

St. Katharine Drexel

One of the…congregations of religious women in the Catholic Church and one of entirely American origin, founded by Miss Katharine Drexel at Philadelphia, Pa., in 1889, for missionary work among the Indians and coloured people of the United States. The formal approbation of the Holy See was given to the congregation in July, 1907.

Francis Anthony Drexel, the father of St. Katharine Drexel

The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore gave a new impetus to missionary work among the coloured and Indian races and as one of the results of its recommendations, Right Reverend James O’Connor, Bishop of Omaha, acting in conjunction with Miss Katherine Drexel, daughter of the late Francis A. Drexel of Philadelphia, decided with the approval of the Most Reverend P. J. Ryan, Archbishop of Philadelphia, to form a new congregation of two races. For some years previous to this step, Miss Drexel had been very active in re-establishing and supporting schools in many of the Indian reservations. The survey of the field of work revealed about 250,000 Indians neglected, if not practically abandoned, and over nine million of negroes still struggling through the aftermath of slavery.

St. Francis de Sales High School. It was the girls high school. Operated from 1899 to 1970. It was built and operated by St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for its whole time of operation. The both schools together educated 15,000 Indian and Black students.

The piteous condition of these two races decided Miss Drexel to devote both her fortune and her life to them. With the approval of high church authorities in the United States, she gathered around her young women imbued with the same ideas, and thus founded, towards the close of 1899, the nucleus of the new community. In order to be well grounded in the principles of the religious life, the first members made a two years’ noviiate with the Sisters of Mercy. After this, they continued their period of preparation in the old Drexel homestead, Torresdale, near Philadelphia. Early in 1892 a mother-house and novitiate were opened at Maud, Pennsylvania, adjoining which was erected a manual training and boarding school for coloured boys and girls.

The distinctive spirit of this institute is the consecration of its members, body and soul, to the service to Jesus Christ ever present in the Holy Eucharist. His Eucharistic life is to be the inspiration of the entire varied activity of the sisters. Besides the vows usual in all religious communities, the sisters pledge themselves to work exclusively for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the Indian and coloured races. By their rule, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament may

  • they may care for orphans or spiritually or corporally destitute children;
  • they may attend the sick by visiting them in their homes or by conducting hospitals;’
  • they may shelter destitute and deserving women;
  • they may visit and instruct inmates of prisons and reformatories;
  • they may establish and conduct homes for the aged;
  • they may establish schools and classes outside their own houses, visit the poor in order to look after their religious welfare and also to teach them habits of good living, neatness, and thrift-in short, to make them self-sustaining men and women.

St. Joseph Indian Normal School. Established by the Catholic Indian Missions with funding from St. Katharine Drexel, the school taught 60 Indian boys. When the Indian School was closed, the building was named Drexel Hall. It is one of the first structures of St. Joseph’s College. Photo by Chris Light.

The sisterhood now numbers one hundred and twelve members. In 1894, St. Catharine’s boarding and industrial school for Pueblo Indians was opened at Santa Fe, New Mexico; in 1899, the Institute of St. Francis de Sales, Rock Castle, Va., a boarding academy and industrial school, was opened for the training of Southern coloured girls; in 1902, St. Michael’s Mission, Arizona, for the education of Navajo Indians, a boarding and industrial school, was completed and opened. The Academy of the Immaculate Mother, Nashville, Tenn., was opened in 1905. In this school girls are also trained to become teachers, while others not desiring to teach may tke a full course of domestic science and dressmaking. In 1906, the sisters commenced work at Carlisle, Pa., by instructing the Indian pupils of the Government School, and conducting a day school for coloured children.

SISTER MERCEDES (cfr. Catholic Encyclopedia)

More pictures and history on St. Katharine Drexel’s work: Noblesse Oblige – Part 2

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