Saint Katharine Drexel, born in 1858 into a prominent Philadelphia family, took an avid interest in the material and spiritual well-being of African Americans and Native Americans. She began by donating money to the poor, but soon concluded that more was needed – the lacking ingredient was people. Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for African Americans and Native American peoples, whose members would work for the betterment of those they were called to serve.
From the age of 33 until her death in 1955, she dedicated her life and a fortune of 20 million dollars to this work. In 1894, Mother Drexel took part in opening the first mission school for Native Americans, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Other schools quickly followed – for Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, and for the African Americans in the southern part of the United States. In 1915, she founded Xavier University in New Orleans. At her death there were more than 500 Sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country.
Katharine was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988. Because of her lifelong dedication to her faith and her selfless service to the oppressed, Pope John Paul II canonized her on October 1, 2000, leading her to become only the second recognized American-born saint.