When Pope Francis was in Philadelphia last fall, he told a story from the life of St. Katherine Drexel (1858-1955), a native of that city. in 1887, Katherine and her sisters, who had recently inherited a nearly $16 million estate, traveled to Europe and had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. Katherine asked the Holy Father to send missionaries to the United States to care for poor African Americans and Native Americans. While to pope was amiable to this, he had a challenge for Katherine. “How about you? What can you do?” And so began the desire of this future saint to become a woman religious. Katherine Drexel devoted her life and her part of her family fortune to serve these two groups. When she died in 1955, she left a rich legacy that continues to this day.
By chance, I was at a conference today in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Someone mentioned that the Shrine of St. Katherine was just a few blocks away, and when the conference was over, I drove up the road to her Shrine. As I sat in the beautiful chapel in this photo, a chapel which St. Katherine knew well, the words of Pope Leo came into my mind. It’s a great challenge to all of us, don’t you think?
The world is a crazy place, and there are many, many lost and broken people right among us. What are we doing to help? It’s not someone else’s job. The challenge is for you and me. St. Katherine could have chosen to just give her money away and leave the work to others. She chose to be the servant, the worker, the provider herself. It was a blessing to pray where she prayed, and kneel at her tomb.
Sadly, I learned that just this past month, the sisters have decided to sell the 44 acre property, including the Shrine. St. Katherine’s remains will be moved to the Cathedral in Philadelphia, a church where she prayed as a child. When I learned this, I felt doubly blessed for my visit today, especially for the randomness of it.
I don’t know what will become of the property, but I hope I’ll have the chance to visit again before it’s gone.