St. Katharine Drexel’s tomb moving to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
The new location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be open to the public in September once construction in complete.Listen 1:47
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Tuesday that the remains of St. Katharine Drexel soon will be transferred from Bensalem to a newly constructed tomb at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City.
Drexel’s order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, is selling the 44-acre Bucks County property where the national shrine is currently housed and worked with the diocese to find a new home.
The new location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be open to the public in September once construction in complete.
The formal installation and blessing will happen on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 11 p.m. with a Mass of Thanksgiving, led by Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput.
Father Dennis Gill, rector of the Cathedral Basilica, says they will also have programs to promote the life and work of the Philadelphia native, including school-based lesson plans, a documentary, a website hosted by the Cathedral Basilica and social media sites.
“There’s nothing dated about this woman,” Gill said. “And her coming here is a very important occasion for us to say Mother Katharine means something to us today as she has in the past, for perhaps more so in many new ways.”
The construction is underwritten by the Connelly Foundation and it will take several weeks for workers to install the tomb and a woodcut depicting three angels in the Cathedral Basilica, which opened in 1864 and is considered the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Drexel’s sacred remains will be located adjacent to the altar that was donated by her family.
“It seemed the most fitting place for this holy woman to continue her ministry, if you will, among us as a saint from heaven here in our Cathedral Basilica,” Gill said. “She knew this church. She came to Mass here in this church. This church was a very important part of her own life and also of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.”
Drexel was born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia in 1858 and later gave up her privileged lifestyle to become a Roman Catholic nun.
“Their belief was that their wealth was not for themselves only, but it was a responsibility to be shared with others,” said Sister Donna Breslin, president of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, of Drexel’s religious and philanthropic family.
Drexel founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891 and dedicated herself to helping African-Americans and Native Americans.
“As a young woman traveling out west, she traveled through the Indian reservations of the United States, and she was shocked to see the poverty that so many of the Indian people of this nation were living in,” Breslin said. “She began to hear more and more about the needs of African-Americans who were suffering also from the society evils of prejudice and discrimination.”
Before becoming a nun, Drexel used her financial resources to help, but soon felt called by God to do more, Breslin noted.
“Katharine saw the dignity of every human being,” she said. “Today more than ever, St. Katharine speaks to us to remind us that we are, each and every one of us, children of a loving God no matter what our faith, no matter what our race, no matter what our ethnicity, our social status.”
On Oct. 1, 2000, Drexel became the second American-born person to be canonized as a saint.
WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.