Athenry Sisters Helping the American Indians – Easter 1998

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Katharine Drexel

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (SBS) are a congregation founded by Katharine Drexel, who was born in Philadelphia in 1858.  A wealthy young woman, she was an active lay supporter of missionaries among the American Indians in the 1880s, when Indian wars saw the elimination of some tribes and the forced removal of others from treaty lands.  Katharine built missions and schools for them through the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and eventually gave some form of support to almost every Catholic Indian mission in the U.S.

She began to aid missionary work for African Americans, for those years saw the gradual eroding of all they had gained during the Reconstruction period.  In 1891 she began the SBS to bring these two races to the Eucharist.  Until her death in 1955 she travelled the length and breath of the United States, to bring the Catholic faith to these two races.

In face of opposition and discrimination supported by the courts, she educated them for leadership in the Church and the community before there was any hope of that education being used.  From the schools she reached out to serve the poor though visitations and catechetics in home and hospitals.  She built a chain of small schools in rural Louisiana to serve the children and grandchildren of slaves, staffing them with the graduates of three normal or teacher training schools she founded.

Photo compliments Wikipedia.org

One of them grew into Xavier University of Louisiana, which now graduates more chemists than any college in the state and sends more Blacks to medical schools than any college in the nation.  In 1988 Pope John Paul 11 beatified Katharine Drexel and her SBS Sisters and friends pray for her speedy canonisation.

Today, hand in hand with Native and African American people we educated, we still teach from kindergarten to graduate school.  Many of our students from poor families go on to college.  SBS prepare Navajo women to teach on the reservation.

We help Haitian migrant workers who have been sprayed with pesticides meant for the crops and we have obtained funds to build decent homes for their families.  We worked to reunite the children and parents among the Haitian boat people.  In the hills of Haiti two SBS developed food programs for malnourished infants and taught their mothers nutrition and reading.  The Sisters began two small orphanages and a school for older children who never had a chance to attend school.

SBS share their faith, knowledge and skills and then move on.  Everywhere they work to promote leadership, self-determination among the people and responsibility within the parish community.

In the 1930s about 100 courageous young women from Ireland followed Mother Katharine’s Eucharistic vision to empower the poor and oppressed through evangelization and education.  Among then were four women from Athenry: Sr.  Maureen and Sr.  Raphael Hynes and Sr.  Carmelita and Mary Theresa Glynn.  They are among the hundreds of SBS who have followed Blessed Katharine’s love and zeal to “live the Eucharist and enable others to live it, being “a sign in the world, a witness among the people of God of the power of the Eucharistic Christ to effect unity and community.”

Sr. Raphael, daughter of Frank Hynes, formerly from Cross St, Athenry.

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Written by St. Raphael Hynes

Published here 29 Mar 2023

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