Saint Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858, to a wealthy family. However, having traveled throughout the United States, she was aware of the difficult circumstances faced by Native Americans and African Americans across the country.
In 1889, Drexel entered religious life as a novice under the training of the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the help of a few other nuns, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People (later known simply as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament). The order would use Drexel’s fortune to fund its work, which focused on opening and running schools for Native American children in the Southwest and African American children in the Southeast. Drexel founded a secondary school for African Americans in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1915. Ten years later, the institution became Xavier University.
Drexel’s order had more than 500 members at the time of her death in 1935. With her assistance, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament had opened 145 missions, 49 elementary schools and 12 high schools. Today, the order continues its missionary and educational work.