The tomb preserving the earthly remains of St. Katharine Drexel has a new home in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, and people now may visit to seek her intercession from her home in heaven.
Father Dennis Gill explained at a press conference at the cathedral Oct. 30 that the project to move the tomb from the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem, which began Aug. 2, was completed Oct. 26 and is ready for daily visits of veneration by the faithful.
“The sacred remains of our own saint are here among us,” said Father Gill. “Her bones were touched by glory, and she is someone who has been received into the presence of God.”
Katherine Drexel was born into Philadelphia’s wealthiest family in 1858. She entered religious life by founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891, establishing ministries to serve African Americans and Native Americans. After a long life, she died in 1955 at age 96 and was buried in the sisters’ motherhouse in Bensalem.
Her resting place became a shrine and place of pilgrimage for prayers of intercession to her, leading up to her beatification in 1988 and canonization in 2000. But as the numbers of sisters in the order dwindled, the viability of the motherhouse and shrine became uncertain.
The property was listed for sale in 2016, and it remains unsold today. Plans to move the saint’s tomb to a location in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, where many people could visit for prayers, settled on the cathedral.
It was a natural fit, since her funeral Mass was celebrated there. And the tomb’s new location is adjacent to the Drexel family altar at the rear of the cathedral. That altar was donated by Katharine and her two sisters, Elizabeth Smith and Louise Morrell, in memory of their parents Francis and Emma Drexel.
The approximately nine-foot long marble sarcophagus for St. Katharine’s tomb was disassembled piece by piece at the Bensalem shrine by workers, transported to the cathedral and reassembled, but the casket was never opened, according to Father Gill.
It was placed beneath the same icon of angels that formerly graced the tomb, now set against the back wall of the cathedral atop a new marble base with a brass railing to accommodate prayerful visitors.
Work on the tomb’s new setting was paid for by the Connolly Foundation, which supports many charitable and educational endeavors in the archdiocese.
“It’s a tremendous honor, and a privilege,” said Josephine Mandeville, chair of the Connelly Foundation, of the opportunity to relocate the tomb to the cathedral.
Although the tomb is now open for public veneration, its formal dedication won’t happen until Sunday, Nov. 18. Archbishop Charles Chaput will lead a Mass at 11 a.m. to which all the public is invited.
In the opening procession of the Mass, the archbishop will lead a litany of the saints at the foot of the tomb, according to Father Gill, who also wrote new lyrics to a hymn for the occasion, set to the tune of “Oh God From Whom All Blessings Flow.”
The Mass and party afterward in Sister Cities Park across 18th Street will celebrate “this wonderful witness of contemporary holiness, promote devotion to St. Katharine and make her present to the people of the archdiocese,” Father Gill said.
He has invited representatives of the various parishes and schools of the archdiocese named in honor of St. Katharine Drexel, who he said remains a model of holiness and social justice for all people today.
A bit more work needs to be done to the tomb in the next three weeks, and Father Gill is confident that bright new lighting, fresh paint for the cathedral’s back wall and polishing the marble of the 60-year-old tomb will be completed by Nov. 18.
Offering an invitation to all, Father Gill said, “We want to celebrate this great moment in the archdiocese and the city. I want everyone to be part of our celebration.”
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