November is a special time for many of us. We remember our veterans and we pray for our beloved dead. Saint Katharine reminds us that when we receive Holy Communion, we are united in a special way to the Mystical Body of Christ. We, the Church Militant, are joined spiritually to the Church Suffering (those awaiting admittance into the Beatific Vision) and the Church Triumphant (those enjoying full union with God in heaven). We still miss our beloved dead but can share our prayers and hopes with them.
This month is also Black Catholic History and Native American Heritage Month. Mother Katharine would have celebrated the achievements of Black and Native American Catholics every day. Her fourth vow, and that of many of the earliest Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, was to be the “Mother and servant of the Negro and Indian People.” Kate Drexel and her sisters Elizabeth and Louise helped to fund the Mother Church of Black Catholics in Philadelphia, St. Peter Claver Church. As a novice, Sister Kate received a letter from Father Augustine Tolton in 1890 and Mother Katharine received another in 1891. In the second letter, Father (now Blessed) Tolton thanked her for her gift and told her that it had taken the Catholic Church in America 100 years to raise up someone like her. Fr. Tolton was pastor of St. Monica’s Church in Chicago. In 1912, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament would teach at St. Monica’s.
Kate Drexel helped to fund St. Catherine’s Indian School in 1887. SBS would teach there as of 1894.
Mother Katharine encouraged graduates of Xavier University of Louisiana and of St. Catherine’s to be leaders among their own people. Normal school graduates from Xavier taught in many of the rural schools in the South that Mother Katharine and the Sisters had opened, providing Black role models for the students. One such student to have benefited from this pattern was Dr. Francis Norman, former president of Xavier University, America’s only Black Catholic university. In the Southwest, Navajo people teach at St. Michael Indian School. They teach Navajo culture, language and crafts.
Native languages were permitted in SBS schools, unlike in the government schools where students were often punished for speaking in their first language. Mother Katharine noted hearing a Navajo boy chanting in his first language while going about his work. Mother Katharine also funded translations of Bible stories and catechisms into Native languages. Yes, the students were taught in English; the variety of cultures present in a classroom (e.g., Hopi, Apache Navajo) made it necessary.
Education was for Mother Katharine and for the SBS the primary mission of education has a ripple effect. Teaching a classroom of students meant a classroom of young people who could go out into the world and be leaders. In this manner, the SBS education ministry was expanded through the ministry of their students.
Thanksgiving is a special day. Mother Katharine observed that “The ordinary soul does not do enough thanksgiving. For all eternity I shall sing the mercies which we ought to begin on earth. … We owe thanks to anyone who does good to us. That is justice and gratitude.”
Mother Katharine’s birthday was November 26, 1858. The Catholic Church only celebrates three birthdays: the Blessed Mother’s on September 8, St. John the Baptist’s on June 24, and, of course, Christmas, December 25. Most feast days honor the person’s entrance into eternal glory. But we can still remember Mother Katharine on her 166th birthday!
Advent is fast approaching and with it a sense of urgency and expectation. Christ the Newborn King is coming, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. Christ the King comes in a spirit of poverty to invite us to join Him, not necessarily as a Warrior King but as a Prince of Peace. May you find Christ’s peace in your homes this season.
Stephanie Morris, ASBS
November 20, 2023