By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
BENSALEM – For the first time since St. Katharine Drexel’s canonization in 2000, Mass was celebrated on her March 3 feast day in the chapel of St. Elizabeth Convent, the motherhouse of her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, rather than the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
St. Elizabeth Convent was home to Mother Katharine from Dec. 2, 1892, the day she and her newly formed congregation took possession of it, until March 3, 1955, the day of her death. At no place in this historic building is her spirit more present than in its beautiful chapel, not even in the crypt below where her earthly remains are entombed.
“Mother Katharine spent many hours in this very sacred space,” Sister Patricia Suchalski, president of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, said in welcoming remarks. “She spent ceaseless hours praying in silence before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She desired God, and God desired her. Hers was a love affair of the soul with God.”
Auxiliary Bishop Daniel E. Thomas, who was principal celebrant of the liturgy, tied St. Katharine’s life to the Gospel message, “No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friend.”
St. Katharine, Bishop Thomas said, laid down her life daily in imitation of her Lord so that she might offer herself for others.
“Prophetic in her own life, she could have nothing unless it began first by bowing low before her very Lord in the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.
Present for the Mass in St. Katharine’s honor were many members of her congregation, including elderly Sisters who remember her well, former students of her schools, especially those from the African-American community, and others with devotion to her. They included Robert Gutherman and Amy Wall, the recipients of the miracles cited for her beatification and canonization respectively.
Dr. Trudy Brown, who was a student at the former Holy Family School on the convent grounds, represented four generations of her family taught by Mother Katharine’s congregation.
“Mother Katharine brought my grandmother here in 1893 when she was 11 years old,” Brown said. “She worked for the Sisters until she was 93 and died at 95. My grandfather drove Mother Katharine’s Model T Ford 20. This is where we are at home.”
That was also the sentiment of Al Bradley, a long-time staffer at the Shrine of St. Katharine. “It’s great to have the Mass at the motherhouse. It’s good to have it home,” he said.
Father Wayne Paysse, executive director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, who visited from Washington, D.C., especially for the Mass, noted how closely Mother Katharine worked with his agency. One of his most distinguished predecessors, Msgr. Joseph Stephan, is buried in the convent cemetery.
“She had a great love for Native and African-Americans. She was a great support for the Church, not only locally, but in a universal way,” Father Paysse said.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.