Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She was raised with a great education and was well traveled.
Her life took a profound turn while nursing her stepmother through a terminal illness; she realized that all of her money could not protect you from pain and death.
Always having an interest in the hard lives of Indians, she asked Pope Leo XIII during a visit to send more missionaries to Wyoming. The Pope’s reply changed her direction in life when he said, “Why don’t you become a missionary?”
Once home, she visited the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her journey to aid Native American missions.
In 1889 she made a big life decision, “The feast of Saint Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.”
After three and a half years of training, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored, opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. Several foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of African American Catholic schools in thirteen states, plus forty mission centers and twenty-three rural schools.
Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first university in the United States for African Americans.
At seventy-seven, she suffered a heart attack, but continued to live for almost twenty years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary.
She died at ninety-six and was canonized in 2000.