Last year, on the day after Thanksgiving, I finally had the chance to visit, after years of wanting to, the Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, the great Philadelphia heiress-turned-foundress. The shrine in Bensalem, Pa., located a few miles from my family's home, is also the home of the mother house of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the order the St. Katharine founded to aid African-Americans and Native Americans. That day I spent an hour praying in the sisters' beautiful chapel, walking through the small but surprisingly moving museum (St. Katharine's habit, her desk, her wheelchair are all there), wandering through the sisters' cemetery, and praying before the saint's tomb, which is located underneath the chapel. At one point an elderly woman in a small chair sitting quietly before the tomb asked me if she would like her to pray for me. "Of course," I said. (That's a question you always say yes to!) She pulled out a small notebook and wrote down my name. It turned out that she had known "Mother Katharine" as a novice, many years ago. (Katharine died in 1955.) "What was she like?" I asked. "Oh," she said. "Very strict...but very funny." She told me while that Mother Katharine was a stickler for details (she once measured the space between this woman's eyebrows and her veil, with a ruler, to ensure that it was the proper distance), that she was also kind and goodhearted.
Today is St. Katharine's feast day. A few resources: Here is an article written by Dennis M. Linehan, S.J., a Philadelphian, from America in 2000 on the frankly incredible life of this frankly incredible woman. Here is the colorful cover art from that issue of America, by Michael O'Neill McGrath, another Philadelphian, now available at Trinity Stores.) Here is the website of the shrine in Bensalem. And above is my favorite image of the saint, the woman who told her sisters who were teaching children, "We must attract them by joy."
James Martin, SJ