By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
BENSALEM – The March 6 Mass at the Chapel of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem to celebrate the feast day of their foundress, St. Katharine Drexel, was truly multi-ethnic and Eucharistic just as she would wish.
For St. Katharine, “the Eucharist was the central part of her life,” said Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who was the principal celebrant and homilist. “In the Eucharist she recognized the great gift that is offered to us, and she never ceased to grow in appreciation of this wonderful sacrament.”
The location of the Mass was appropriate too because as Blessed Sacrament President Sister Patricia Suchalski noted, this chapel was the place where she prayed “in the quiet of the early morning and the quiet of the night.” St. Katharine, she said, “was a woman passionate for God and for God’s people.”
At the outset of a short reflection Precious Blood Father Clarence Williams, who is senior director of Racial Equality and spanersity for Catholic Charities U.S.A., singled out one elderly nun seated in a wheelchair, Sister Bridget Marie. He was taught by Blessed Sacrament Sisters in Cleveland, and “Sister Bridget Marie was my first Catholic school teacher,” he said. As his audience applauded he added, “The last time I clapped for her I was clapping erasers.”
“We often think of Katharine Drexel in her service to the Native American and the Black communities; her greatest service was to the white community because she was a role model for everybody and she is a saint for everybody,” said Father Williams, an African American.
This particular feast day celebration coincided with the 55th anniversary of St. Katharine’s rebirth into a new heavenly life, and it was also a prelude to this coming October’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of her canonization. At this point a total of 22 saints from the Western Hemisphere have been canonized, and what is especially remarkable about St. Katharine is that she is the only one canonized less than 50 years after her death, Father Williams said.
“The legacy of St. Katharine is opening up like a rose,” he added. “Many people never heard of her because the sisters worked on the margins.”
Following Father Williams’ presentation the Blessed Sacrament Sisters’ annual Peace and Justice Award was presented to Sister Kateri Mitchell of the Sisters of St. Ann. A member of the Mohawk Nation, a matriarchal society of the Iroquois Indian Confederacy, she is the first Native American woman to serve as executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference, a national office for evangelization among Native American Catholics.
“Each and every one of us is part of the sacred circle of life,” she said. “God has created all of us in the beautiful colors, the beautiful image of the Body of Christ. That heartbeat we share, that image of life of the spirit within us is to be shared by all of God’s people of all colors, of all nations. May we go forth to share and to live the Word of God in the Eucharist, the Eucharist that brings us to life.”
Among others at the gathering was Father Wayne Paysse, director of the Washington-based Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, an agency that received much support from St. Katharine during her life on earth.
“The love she exemplified for the Native and Black American was a real integration,” he said. “This is a blessed day.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.