Although she was born into great wealth, her real treasure was her richness of spirit. Her life span of 96 years (1858 to 1955) covered a remarkable period in history which included: the entirety of the Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Red Cloud’s War and other major skirmishes with Native Americans out West, the implementation of the Jim Crow Laws and the Ku Klux Klan, the founding of the NAACP, and women’s suffrage.
Katharine Drexel was the second child of Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Langstroth and the niece of Anthony Joseph Drexel, founder of Drexel University. Bequeathed an inheritance of 7 million dollars by her father, Katherine’s life seemed destined to be that of a society lady of the Victorian Era. There were significant events that resulted in a departure from that course to the life she ultimately chose. Although philanthropy had always been a part of the Drexel life, it was after watching her stepmother suffer with cancer that Katharine realized that money did not give one an escape from pain or death. During a family trip out West in 1884, Katharine Drexel saw the plight and destitution of the Native Americans and decided to help. That is when she began her lifelong personal and financial commitment to help Native Americans and African Americans.
In a private audience with Pope Leo XIII in 1887 he suggested to Katharine that she become a missionary although she had already received proposals of marriage. And so her life’s course was forever altered.
Over the next 60 years, she touched the lives of millions by her commitment of her life and her material wealth. In 2000 she was canonized. The Vatican cited fourfold aspects of Drexel's legacy:
a love of the Eucharist and perspective on the unity of all peoples;
courage and initiative in addressing social inequality among minorities - one hundred years before such concern
aroused public interest in the United States;
her belief in quality education for all and efforts to achieve it;
selfless service, including the donation of her inheritance, for the victims of injustice.
Read more about Rene Goodwin