*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 1st of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Of all the 19th century financiers, “robber barons”, titans of industry etc… you might not know about Francis Drexel. The show today is not about Francis Drexel, but you should know his story.
Francis was the son of a Philadelphia portrait artist turned exchange broker. Francis and his Brothers would soon manage Drexel and Co. until his fathers death. The Drexel’s would then merge with a little company called J.P. Morgan and then, among other things, financed the Union during the Civil War, financed the Gold Rush and railroads and more. They would become amongst the richest families in America.
Francis, however, was content with letting his brother Anthony run the organization while he married and raised a family. Weeks after the birth of her second daughter, Catharine, Francis’ wife Hannah died. The two girls were sent to live with Anthony and his wife until Francis remarried.
His new wife was Emma Bouvier (this is the Bouvier dynasty from whom we have Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis) and she was a devout Christian. Uneasy with the amount of wealth they had, she began opening the family estate 3 times a week to give out food and clothing to the city’s poor. This would have a profound effect on young Catherine who began sympathizing with the underprivileged as she travelled around the United States. Catherine was particularly keen on helping Black and Indigenous Americans with both material needs and education. When her father died, followed by the sudden death of her sister, Catherine found herself with an inheritance that would be, adjusted for inflation, in the billions.
Catherine began opening schools in the West for Indigenous Americans and in the South for Black Americans. But she was unhappy with the speed at which things could be done on account of local prejudices and lack of institutional support. As a devout Catholic she was able to secure a meeting with Pope Leo XIII to ask for help. The Pope challenged Catharine to give up high society and her lifestyle and become a nun. And that’s what she did. Her friends and parish priest believed it to be a mistake- she was too accustomed to her comforts.
She entered the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia in 1889. After taking her final vows she and a few other sisters began the “Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament”. With the infrastructure of a religious community they were able to build 49 elementary schools, 12 high schools and Xavier University in Louisiana which is the first and only Catholic HBCU (the designation for “historically black colleges and universities). At the time of her death in the 1950s the community had over 500 members in over 50 convents across America.
It has been suggested that in her lifetime she managed to give away the equivalent of more than half of a billion dollars. But she was known for being quiet and not demanding attention. At the dedication of Xavier University for which she was almost entirely responsible, she insisted on sitting in the back of the room. She would not permit her name or image to be on display.
Different groups of Christians disagree on what makes a saint. The Roman Catholic Church, as we have seen, has a distinct process for recognizing and understanding her saints- and it was on this this, the 1st of October in 2000 that Katharine Drexel was named a saint in the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II- only the second U.S. born person to be named as such.
The last word for today comes Philippians 2- in a bible study I am currently in we are working through this book and with Katharine I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s call for us to have the same mindset as Jesus who…
being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite robber is the Hamburglar, and whose favorite Baron is Munchausen. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.