I was speaking with a Religious Sister a few days ago from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order of nuns founded by Saint Kathryn Drexel in late 19th century Philadelphia. Kathryn Drexel’s father was an international banker and the family traveled by private railroad car. Immensely wealthy, Kathryn was not someone likely drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. Her mother opened the doors of their family home to feed the poor three times each day and her father spent half an hour each evening in prayer. Kathryn was educated and well-traveled. She had everything this world could offer, but realized that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from suffering or death. This is what changed young Kathryn. When visiting Pope Leo XIII she asked him why he did not send someone to care for the poor native Indian and Black youth in America. In reply he asked young Kathryn what she was doing to help them. He had shocked her into considering new possibilities in her life.
In 1889 on the feast of Saint Joseph, Kathryn decided to give the remainder of her life to the service of the poor Indian and Black children of America. The newspaper headlines of 1889 could not be believed: “Gives up Seven Million Dollars.” That would be more than $180,000,000 in 2017 dollars….or about the price the United States paid to purchase Alaska.
With that money Mother Drexel opened boarding schools for those young Native Indian and Black Americans who had been forgotten. She was harassed for her work, even burning her schools, but she persevered and established 50 schools to educate the poor and most neglected. She is the founder of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. At 77 she was stricken and then devoted the rest of her life to praying in her small room underneath the stairway until her death at 96.
Why do I tell you this story? So that you might know just one story in the vast history of what the Church has done in education. I thank you for all you do in supporting our school and Catholic education. It is here that our children learn to put the Gospel into action, just as did Saint Kathryn Drexel. None of us could give the enormous fortune she gave, but each of you in your own way has supported parish schools and the Catholic education system which does well and does good. You have consistently responded to the question posed by Pope Pius all those years ago: “And what are you doing to help?”
We have just concluded our celebrations for “Catholic Schools Week” here and throughout the diocese across Long Island and the nation. Let us do all in our power to protect and support Catholic education here on Long Island and throughout the land.
“Teach me, O my dear Mother, the lesson of sacrifice”
-Saint Kathryn Drexel
– Fr. Gerard Gordon