Born in Philadelphia on Nov. 26, 1858 as Catharine Mary Drexel was the second child of investment banker Francis Anthony Drexel and Hannah Langstroth. Hannah died five weeks after she was born. Her father later remarried Emma Bouvier.
She nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, where she realized that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn.
She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by what she read in Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities.
Back home, Katharine visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions.
She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.”
After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed.
In 1902 Katharine founded Saint Michael Indian School She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.