The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Tuesday, July 24, that the sacred remains of Saint Katharine Drexel will be transferred from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament Motherhouse and Shrine in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. The new location for Saint Katharine Drexel’s tomb is expected to be open to the public in September following the completion of the newly constructed Cathedral tomb.
(Editor' Note: Saint Katharine Drexel is well known in Southwest Louisiana along with the religious order that she founded - the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament - who taught in the Catholic schools of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lake Charles. She even visited her religious sisters at those schools, making her the only canonized saint to set foot in this part of Louisiana.)
In addition to the relocation, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia also announced several new programs to promote the life, work, and witness of Saint Katharine Drexel. These programs include school-based lesson plans, an online and television documentary, a newly-launched website hosted by the Cathedral Basilica, new social media sites, and a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap on Sunday, November 18, 2018. The construction and communications program are generously underwritten by a grant from the Connelly Foundation.
“The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament have once again given the faithful of the Archdiocese a tremendous gift,” said Reverend Dennis Gill, Rector and Pastor 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.”
“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. “She is a contemporary saint and we continue to pray to her for an end to racism and other deeply rooted injustices.”
“The Connelly Foundation’s support for this project comes from reverence and respect for a truly outstanding Philadelphian, who gave totally of herself to help others,” said Josephine C. Mandeville, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Connelly Foundation. “Her life and her mission are inspiring. The Connelly Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to assist in creating a permanent resting place for this very special Philadelphia saint.”
Saint Katharine Drexel was canonized on October 1, 2000, a ceremony at which the late Bishop Jude Speyrer and clergy of the Diocese of Lake Charles attended in Rome). She is the second American-born person ever to be canonized. Born into tremendous wealth as part of the Drexel family, she gave up her life of privilege to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891. She dedicated her life to serve the needs of African Americans and Native Americans, and inspired so many women, who joined the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, to follow her example. Today, the Sisters continue to serve in elementary and secondary schools, as well as at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, the first Black Catholic university in the U.S. They are also involved in a variety of other services including pastoral and spiritual ministries, social services, counseling, religious education, and health care, primarily but not exclusively among Black and Native American peoples.
In May 2016, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament announced their decision to sell the Motherhouse property where the current shrine is housed, along with other property in Virginia. At that time the Sisters asked the Archdiocese to consider creating a sacred space for Saint Katharine’s remains. Earlier this year, the Archdiocese agreed to create a new space for her tomb at the Cathedral Basilica. This new tomb will be immediately adjacent to the Drexel altar donated by the Drexel family decades ago.
About the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, founded in 1891 by Saint Katharine Drexel, is a congregation dedicated to the interracial apostolate in the United States, Haiti, and Jamaica. Today, Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament serve in elementary and secondary schools, as well as at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. They are also involved in a variety of other services including pastoral and spiritual ministries, social services, counseling, religious education, and health care, primarily but not exclusively among Black and Native American peoples. The Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament is in Bensalem, Pa.