PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania – The relics of St. Katharine Drexel, along with her original tomb, will be translated to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, and the public will be able to visit her remains when the tomb opens in September.
Drexel and her family attended Mass at the Cathedral Basilica when she was a child.
Previously, Drexel’s body was buried at the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Motherhouse and Shrine in Bensalem, Pa. That shrine closed at the end of 2017, about 18 months after the sisters announced that they intended to sell the property. The smaller number of sisters found it difficult to maintain the relatively large property.
“The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament have once again given the faithful of the Archdiocese a tremendous gift,” said Father Dennis Gill, rector of the Cathedral Basilica. “With the new opportunity to honor Saint Katharine at the Cathedral, even more people will be exposed to her extraordinary life and example. It is our fervent hope that others will be inspired and continue her important work among Native Americans and African Americans.”
The opening of the new tomb coincides with several new programs from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia celebrating Drexel’s life and work. These include lesson plans for Catholic schools, a documentary film, new websites and social media outreach, and a Mass of thanksgiving to be celebrated in November. This Mass will mark the formal opening of the tomb.
“Saint Katharine’s message is as relevant today as it was 125 years ago,” said Sister Donna Breslin, President of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, in a statement published by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. “She is a contemporary saint and we continue to pray to her for an end to racism and other deeply rooted injustices.”
Drexel was canonized Oct. 1, 2000 by St. Pope John Paul II. She was the second American-born saint, and the first-ever saint to have been born a U.S. citizen. (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, was born in New York in 1774, while the area was still a British colony.)
Born in 1858 to a family of significant wealth, Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891. Her work primarily focused on ministering to the African American and Native American populations of the southwestern United States.
Drexel’s order opened 50 schools for African American children, 12 schools for Native American children, and over 140 missions for these populations.
Her order founded what would eventually become Xavier University of Louisiana, the only historically black Catholic university in the United States. Today, a school named after her stands on the site of the original college.
She died in 1955 at the age of 96, and the canonization process began 11 years later.