Saint Katharine Drexel: A Trailblazer for Racial Justice

Today I want to talk about Saint Katharine Drexel. I am fascinated by women in the late 1800s and what inspired them. Here is a woman who fought for racial justice for Native Americans and African Americans. In 1915, Katharine founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans.

Katharine Drexel was born on November 26, 1858, into a wealthy Philadelphia family. Despite her privileged upbringing, she was deeply aware of the injustices faced by marginalized communities. Her parents, Francis and Emma Drexel, were devout Catholics who instilled in her the importance of philanthropy and social justice. This upbringing laid the foundation for Katharine’s lifelong mission.

Her journey toward sainthood began with a trip to the Western United States in 1884. During this trip, she witnessed firsthand the dire conditions faced by Native Americans. Moved by their plight, she began to use her substantial inheritance to fund schools and missions for Native American communities. Her commitment to education was rooted in the belief that it was a powerful tool for empowerment and change.

Religious Life

In 1889, Katharine made the courageous decision to enter religious life. She joined the Sisters of Mercy, and later founded her own religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, in 1891. The order’s mission was to serve African Americans and Native Americans through education and social services. This was a groundbreaking move at a time when racial segregation and discrimination were rampant in the United States.

One of Katharine’s most significant achievements was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans in 1915. As the first Catholic university in the United States primarily for African Americans, Xavier University became a beacon of hope and opportunity. It provided higher education to those who were systematically denied such opportunities due to their race. The university’s legacy continues today, producing graduates who excel in various fields and contribute to their communities.

Katharine Drexel’s impact extended beyond education. She established over 60 schools and missions across the United States, including in remote and underserved areas. Her work was not without challenges. She faced resistance and hostility, but her unwavering faith and determination saw her through. Katharine’s efforts were recognized by the Catholic Church, and she became the second American-born saint when she was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.

Racial Injustice

In a world still grappling with racial injustice, St. Katharine Drexel’s life and legacy offer a powerful example of what one person can achieve through dedication and compassion. Her work reminds us of the importance of fighting for equality and justice for all, regardless of race or background.

Something tells me her love and example are needed right now in this world. As we reflect on her life, let us draw inspiration from her courage and commitment to making the world a more just and equitable place.  St. Katharine Drexel’s story is a testament to the transformative power of faith and service. Her life’s work continues to inspire and challenge us to carry forward her mission of justice, education, and compassion.


Rev. Colleen Irwin
Reverend Colleen Irwin is a Spiritual being having a human experience as a Blogger, Wife, Mother, Mentor, Healer and Public Speaker living in Rochester New York. Colleen, a Natural Born Medium, teaches, lectures and serves Spirit when called upon. She remembers speaking with Spirit as a child and learning how to share this knowledge with others has been an adventure that she captured in her book “Discovering Your Stream”. Colleen has been mentored by Reverend Jack Rudy, and ordained as a Priest in the Order of Melchizedek by the Reverend Dan Chesboro through the Sanctuary of the Beloved. When she is not doing her Spiritual work she is a volunteer docent sharing Susan B. Anthony's history to visitors of the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester. Her trust in Spirit gave her a new title – PREVIVOR. She now uses her platform to educate others about the BRCA genetic mutation and how one can take control of their health and well-being.
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