Katharine was born in Philadelphia on November 26, 1858, the second child of a prominent and wealthy banker, Francis Anthony Drexel and his wife, Hannah Langstroth. Her mother passed away just five weeks after Katharine was born. Her father remarried to Emma Bouvier in 1860 and together they had another daughter in 1863, Louisa Drexel. The girls received a wonderful education from private tutors and traveled throughout the United States and Europe. The Drexels were financially and spiritually well endowed. They were devout in the practice of their faith, setting an excellent example of true Christian living for their three daughters.
After watching her stepmother suffer with terminal cancer for three straight years, Katharine also learned that no amount of money could shelter them from pain or suffering. From this moment, Katharine's life took a turn. She became imbued with a passionate love for God and neighbor, and she took an avid interest in the material and spiritual well-being of black and native Americans. She soon concluded that more was needed to help and the lacking ingredient was people. In 1887, while touring Europe, the Drexel sisters were given a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. They were seeking missionaries to help with the Indian missions they were financing. The Pope looked to Katharine and suggested she, herself, become a missionary.
On February 12, 1891, Katharine made her first vows and dedicated herself to working for the American Indians and African-Americans in the Western United States. Taking the name Mother Katharine, she established a religious congregation called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored, whose members would work for the betterment of those they were called to serve. From the age of 33 until her death in 1955, she dedicated her life and her fortune to this work.
In 1915, Katharine founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic University in the United States for African-Americans. By the time of her death, she had more than 500 Sisters teaching in 63 schools throughout the country and she established 50 missions for Native Americans in 16 different states.
One of our homes, in the Children, Family & Community Service ministry, chose St. Katharine as their patron Saint and have renamed the home in her honour.