Artist: Brendon Palmer-Angell
Storyteller: Sharlene Sinegal Decuir
Katharine Mary Drexel, born on November 26, 1858, into one of the wealthiest families in Philadelphia was destined to be a socialite and a member of privileged society. He father, Francis A. Drexel and his brothers owned an international banking empire. Francis Drexel’s estate was worth $15.5 million at the time of his death 1885. Katharine and her two sisters inherited $14 million from their father’s estate, while $1.5 million was donated to 29 charities in Philadelphia.
Prior to Francis Drexel’s death Katharine contemplated living a religious life as a nun. On November 7, 1889, she was received into the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy. During her time as a novice, Katharine planned to build a novitiate for her own religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. On February 12, 1891, Katharine professed her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Katharine added a fourth vow: “To be the mother and servant of the Indian and Negro races…and not to undertake any work which would lead to the neglect or abandonment of the Indian and Colored races.” Katharine became the first Sister of the Blessed Sacrament for Indian and Colored People (SBS).
Katharine and the SBS began work building schools and supporting educational opportunities for African Americans and Indians throughout the country. In 1915, Katharine Drexel founded Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Xavier is the first and only, Catholic institution of higher education for blacks in the United States. Today, Xavier University is one of the finest universities in the nation producing some of the brightest leaders in the global society. Katharine Drexel’s vision, tenacity, dedication, and charity is responsible for numerous black doctors, lawyers, pharmacist, educators, and business professionals throughout the world. Katharine Drexel died on March 3, 1955, and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2000.