Lent with the Saints – From Wealth to Rich Poverty

Post Date: March 3, 2023
Author: Laura Stephens

“Holiness consists in one thing:
To do God’s will,
as He wills it,
because He wills it.”
– St. Katharine Drexel (Saint Spotlight)

Do not let the title fool you…no matter whether you are wealthy or scraping by, famous or unknown in society circles, we all have the same calling from God – holiness by following God’s will! What is unique and awe-inspiring is that we each have a very particularly personal way to live our lives for God! No two paths to God are the same, but with faith and our humble cooperation they all lead to Heaven!

During Lent, we are looking deeper into our relationship with God. We should be listening more clearly to God’s guiding voice and to how He designed us to share our gifts with the world. For the next three Friday blogs, we will take a journey through Lent with a few saints whose feast days are within this season.

First, we will turn our reflection to St. Katharine Drexel whose feast day we celebrate today. She was born to an extremely wealthy family in Philadelphia in 1858. Her father, Francis Drexel, was an international banker. Katharine’s birth mother, Hannah, sadly died five weeks after Katharine was born as she never recovered from difficulty of childbirth. Within a couple years, her father married a devout woman, Emma, who Katharine lovingly consider and called her mother for the great love and care she received from her stepmother. Katharine was well educated at home and lived within a very affluent circle of families. More profound was the family’s incredible devotion to their faith. She would also see her father spend regular time every day in prayer. Her stepmother would provide for the poor within their home several times every week or go personally to meet them where they were in their need. Katharine grew up within a family who saw their wealth as a gift they received from God that they were to share with those in need around them.

As a rich girl, Katharine also had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. (Saint of the Day)
Her desire for solidarity with the poor led her to see the needs of the Native Americans and the African Americans of her time. She became good friends with Bishop O’Connor and supported his work for the poor.

While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities. (Saint of the Day)

Despite her position of opportunity, Katharine now sought a more profound closeness with God and over time felt called to religious life. Her vocation was confirmed; and her spiritual director, Bishop O’Connor, essentially ordered her to start a new order that would care for Native Americans and African Americans. Her first response was that she was not worthy; but then she spoke humbly saying that if she kept her eyes on God and not on herself, she would do it. Newspapers and high society were shocked that Katharine would give up the family fortune and use the wealth of over seven million dollars to serve those most in need during her time. She never looked back but worked tirelessly for the rest of her life. She built up her religious community known now as The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

Mother Drexel opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942, she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. (Saint of the Day)

Mother Drexel’s love for Christ and for the poor, pushed her to new height of society. She turned away from the merely human glories of society but rather sought rich poverty in life-long service to the poor. She is now among the saints in Heaven and her witness will speak for all eternity of her faithful service to God with everything she had.

May St. Katharine Drexel’s witness of faithfulness and devotion inspire us to see where God is calling us and our family to serve more hands-on.

For reflection and action:

  • Is there someone or an organization that your heart is calling you to serve with your gifts of time and treasure? No time like now to begin!
  • How can we see Christ better in the face of the poor, marginalized or on the fringes of society? Grab your Bible and reflect on some of the following Bible verses to inspire you: Proverbs 19:17, Matthew 25:35-40. 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Luke 6:38, 1 John 3:17-18
  • During this time in history, we need to look to St. Katharine and her love for all people. Let her set the example of true equality and solidarity with each other. Read more about her life and consider sharing this video of her story with your children.
  • As the second American born saint, let us pray for more saints to rise in our county. May we seek unity, love, and commitment to God over division and disharmony. In God We Trust!

St. Katharine Drexel, pray for us and for the world!

References:
Photo: St Katharine Drexel copyright LPI
Saint Spotlight quote retrieved from https://www.modgnews.com/10167/uncategorized/saint-spotlight-katharine-drexel/
Saint of the Day quotes retrieved from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-katharine-drexel/

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