Saint Katharine Drexel, The Holy Heiress: The Early Years

Saint Katharine Drexel, The Holy Heiress: The Early Years


THE DREXEL FAMILY LEGACY IS VAST. KATHARINE DREXEL’S FATHER, FRANK, HELPED FUND THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE CATHEDRAL BASILICA AND IS SAID TO HAVE DONATED THE COPPER FOR THE ROOF. HER UNCLE ANTHONY FOUNDED DREXEL UNIVERSITY. AND KATHARINE STARTED SCHOOLS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY COMMITTED TO EDUCATING NATIVE AMERICAN AND AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS.>>THE PEOPLE CONSIDERED NOT WORTHY OF ANYONE’S ATTENTION>>AND SHE FOUNDED HER OWN RELIGIOUS ORDER TO DO THE WORK BOTH RISKY AND GROUNDBREAKING FOR ITS TIME IN THE LATE 1800S.>>SHE REALLY BELIEVED ALL PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE THE BEST EDUCATION AND NO ONE SHOULD BE DIFFERENT FROM SOMEONE ELSE.>>THE MONEY FOR KATHARINE’S LARGESSE HAD COME FROM HER GRANDFATHER, FRANCIS DREXEL. A STRUGGLING PORTRAIT ARTIST, HE’D EMIGRATED TO AMERICAN FROM AUSTRIA IN 1817 AND SET UP SHOP ON SOUTH FRONT STREET.>>HE INTENDED TO MAKE A FORTUNE. THAT’S WHAT HE SAID IN HIS DIARY WHEN HE CAME HERE.>>IN PHILADELPHIA, HE DIDN’T DO ALL THAT WELL SO HE TRAVELED AND BY DOING THAT HE LEARNED A LITTLE ABOUT MONEY CHANGING>>THAT KNOWLEDGE BECAME OPPORTUNITY WITH THE PANIC OF 1837 AS BANKS FAILED AND THE NATION PLUNGED INTO A MAJOR RECESSION.>>AS A TRADER IN CURRENCY, YOU COULD MAKE A FORTUNE SO THAT’S WHAT HE STARTED TO DO>>AND BEFORE HE KNEW IT HE WAS A VERY RICH MAN.>>HIS 11 AND 13 YEAR OLD SONS, ANTHONY AND FRANK, BECAME HIS APPRENTICES WORKING AND SLEEPING UNDER THE COUNTER OF THE SHOP NEAR 3RD AND MARKET STREETS AS THEIR FATHER QUICKLY BUILT WHAT WOULD BECOME ONE OF THE GREATEST BANKING FORTUNES IN AMERICAN HISTORY.>>EVEN BEFORE KATHERINE WAS BORN, HER FAMILY WAS ENGAGED IN WORKS OF CHARITY>>THEY FELT THAT THEIR MONEY WAS ONLY GIVEN TO THEM TO SHARE TO DO GOOD WORKS.>>KATHARINE WAS BORN NOVEMBER 26TH, 1858 IN A LONG-SINCE RAZED ROW HOME ON THE 400 BLOCK OF RACE STREET AND BAPTIZED AT THE CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION AT 12TH AND SPRING GARDEN STREETS.>>THIS IS THE FONT IN WHICH SAINT KATHARINE WAS BAPTIZED THE 8 SIDES SYMBOLIZE ETERNITY EVEN THOUGH SHE WOULD NOT HAVE KNOWN IT, THAT WAS THE BEGINNING OF HER ETERNAL LIFE.>>BUT AS SHE WAS RECEIVING HER FIRST SACRAMENT, HER MOTHER LAY DYING.>>HER FATHER FELL INTO ABSOLUTELY DEBILITATING GRIEF>>KATHARINE AND HER OLDER SISTER ELIZABETH WERE SENT TO LIVE WITH THEIR UNCLE ANTHONY, IN A PALATIAL MANSION THAT COVERED THE ENTIRE 3800 BLOCK OF WALNUT STREET IN WEST PHILADELPHIA.>>ANTHONY DREXEL IF YOU GO TO DREXEL UNIVERSITY LOOKS VERY STERN AND FORBIDDING AND IN FACT HE WAS NOT. HE LOVED READING ALOUD TO THE KIDS. THEY DID AMATEUR THEATRICS. THEY RECITED POETRY.>>WHEN KATHARINE WAS 2, HER FATHER REMARRIED AND THE FAMILY REUNITED TAKING UP RESIDENCE IN CENTER CITY, JUST A FEW BLOCKS FROM RITTENHOUSE SQUARE.>>HIS SECOND WIFE, EMMA BOUVIER, WAS VERY RELIGIOUS.>>THEY HAD AN ORATORY IN THE HOUSE RIGHT. WHICH WAS EXCEPTIONAL.>>SHE WAS WATCHING HER FATHER COME HOME FROM WORK AND PRAY FOR A HALF AN HOUR AND THEN PLAY HIS ORGAN.>>HE LOVED TO PLAY THE ORGAN. HE PLAYED EVERY DAY.>>A PROSPEROUS BANKER BY TRADE BUT A PIOUS ARTIST AT HEART, HER FATHER WOULD WALK 12 MILES ROUND-TRIP TO PLAY THE ORGAN AT ST. JOHN’S CHURCH IN MANAYUNK ON SUNDAYS.>>HER STEPMOTHER AND HER FATHER INSTILLED IN THEIR CHILDREN THAT EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE QUITE WEALTHY, THEY HAD A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.>>FRANK WAS GENEROUS WITH ESTABLISHED INSTITUTIONS BUT EMMA PRACTICED PHILANTHROPY ON A VERY PERSONAL LEVEL.>>SHE WOULD DISPENSE CHARITY FROM HER HOUSE.>>SHE INVITED HER CHILDREN TO BE VERY MUCH APART OF THAT. IN FACT THEY OPENED UP THEIR HOME ONE DAY A WEEK>>HER MOTHER USED TO HIRE A WOMAN MUCH LIKE A SOCIAL WORKER WOULD BE TODAY BECAUSE THEY WANTED THE MONEY TO GO TO THE REALLY POOR.>>SHE SAID NEVER LET THE POOR HAVE COLD FEET.>>SHE HAD HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE THAT SHE WAS HELPING>>SO THEY LEARNED AT A VERY YOUNG AGE THAT THEY WERE BLESSED AND THEY HAD TO SHARE THAT BLESSINGS WITH OTHERS.>>BUT STILL, FEW WOULD HAVE PREDICTED THE YOUNG KATIE WOULD CHOOSE THE LIFE OF A RELIGIOUS.>>SHE LIKED VERY FANCY THINGS. IF SHE WANTED SOMETHING FROM HER MOTHER, SHE WOULD PLEAD FOR IT IN THESE WRITINGS.>>SHE WAS A TYPICAL LITTLE GIRL.>>WHEN KATHARINE WAS JUST A TODDLER AND LOUISE WAS BORN, SHE WOULD SOMETIMES GO OVER, POKE LOUISE JUST TO SEE HER CRY, LAUGHS.>>WITH THE BIRTH OF LOUISE, THERE WERE NOW 3 DREXEL SISTERS AND THEY LIVED THE LIFE OF THE ELITE WITH IN- HOME TUTORS.>>NOT JUST ANY TUTORS. THEY MIGHT HAVE A DOCTOR TO TEACH THEM ABOUT ANATOMY UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS WOULD BE HIRED TO TEACH THESE CHILDREN.>>THEY TOOK TRIPS ABROAD TO EUROPE HAD A SUMMER ESTATE IN TORRESDALE AND KATHARINE LOVED TO GO DOWN THE SHORE.>>SHE WAS VERY FEISTY. SHE LOVED TEASING PEOPLE. AND SHE WAS AN INCREDIBLE FLIRT.>>SHE MADE HER FORMAL DEBUT INTO SOCIETY ENTERTAINED AT LEAST ONE MARRIAGE PROPOSAL AND THE EXPECTATIONS FOR A WOMAN OF HER STATUS WERE CLEAR.>>MARRY, MARRY WELL BE A LADY OF SOCIETY WHO WAS ALSO CHARITABLE>>IT NEVER ENTERED HER MIND THAT HER VOCATION WAS TO THE CONSECRATED LIFE.>>BUT AS SHE WAS OUTWARDLY LIVING THE LIFE OF A GRAND LADY, SHE WAS ALSO KEEPING A TOP SECRET JOURNAL SHE CALLED THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKING TO MY SOUL.>>SHE WAS WRESTLING WITH WHAT GOD WAS CALLING HER TO DO AND IF THERE ARE PEOPLE IN POVERTY AND STARVING, THEN WHAT AM I DOING HERE?>>A SERIES OF PERSONAL TRAGEDIES AND A FACE TO FACE MEETING WITH THE POP

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