03 March 2014

Tolton: It took America 100 years to show a person such as Saint Katharine Drexel

When Pope Leo XIII received Catherine Drexel and her two sisters, all three wealthy American heiresses, in an audience in 1887, he heard of the plight of the Native American peoples. Catherine, then twenty-nine years of age, implored His Holiness to send missionaries to the United States of America to work among the Native Americans. Pope Leo XIII responded with a simply question, "Why don't you become a missionary?"

His response took her quite by surprise and the rest, as they say, is history.

Four years later she took the name Mother Katharine and established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to work as missionaries among the Native American and black peoples in the United States of America, using her inheritance to fund the fund the works of her apostolate.

Her reputation for holiness grew and Blessed Pope John II beatified her on November 20, 1988. The same Roman Pontiff canonized her on October 1, 2000. Her liturgical memorial is observed on March 3rd.

On at least four separate occasions Quincy's first citizen, the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, wrote to Saint Katharine Drexel seeking her assistance in supported his mission among black Catholics at St. Monica's Chapel, located at 3554 Dearborn Street in Chicago.

In a letter Mother Katharine he wrote on September 30, 1890, Father Tolton mentions a previous letter that he mistakenly sent to Philadelphia. He comes straight to the point as to the purpose of his letter:
I heard from all the Colored delegates that you had kindly consented to give a helping hand to Colored Missions. This was the spirit of the first letter to ask your kind assistance. I am in a new missionary field and nothing to start with. I hope that you will assist us if it is not too much to ask of you, but I suppose all your charity is nearly exhausted by this time as you have helped so many missions.
Several months passed and when he had still received no answer, a Father Stevan suggested Mother Katharine may have forgotten about Father Tolton and his mission in the Windy City. So it was that he wrote again on May 12, 1891:
I told him [Father Stevan] I did not think that you would forget us, only I did not desire to be too hasty; we are glad that we can look forward in hopes. Here in Chicago we have so many promises but that will not help us.
To give Mother Katharine an idea of what sort of help he may need, Father Tolton went on to provide a brief description of his ministry at St. Monica's:
I have together 260 souls [after 1 1/2 years time there] to render an account of before God's Majesty. There are altogether 500 souls but they have become like unto dead branches on a tree and without moisture because no one had taken care of them. Just Sunday night last I was called to the death bed of a Colored woman who had been 9 years away from her [religious] duties because she was hurled out of a White church and even cursed at by the Irish members, very bad indeed! She sent for me and thanked God that she had me to send for. These dear people feel proud that they have one to look after them.
Another month went by and still no word had come from Pittsburgh, so Father Tolton wrote again on June 5, 1891 with apologies for "vexing your mind by my letters." This fourth letter is, perhaps, the most important letter Father Tolton wrote to Mother Katharine; not because it was answered with a gift of $100.00, but because in it he describes his estimation of the saintly woman:
One thing I do know, and that is it took the Catholic Church 100 years in America to show up such a person as yourself. That is the reason why you have so much bother now and so many extending their hands to get a lift; in the whole history of the Church in America we can't find one person that has sworn to lay out their treasury for the sole benefit of the Colored and the Indians. As I stand alone as the first Negro priest in America, so you, Mother Catherine [sic], stand alone as the first on to make such a sacrifice for the cause of downtrodden race. Hence, the South is looking on with an angry eye; the North in many places is criticising [sic] every act, just as it is watching every move I make; I suppose that is the reason why we had no Negro priests before this day: they watch me just the same as the Pharisees did Our Lord - they watched Him.
From the testimony of Saint Katharine's life we can take a simple example: There is no need to wait for someone else to do good when we can do good ourselves. We simply must begin.

Mother Katharine died 1955. Let us pray we need not wait a full 100 years before the Church in America produces another such woman of generosity, courage, and faith!

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