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A selection of Native American works from the Collection of The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

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Lynda Cain
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Published: 24 January 2017

Native American Arts to be offered from the Collection of The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament

Katharine Drexel was born to one of Philadelphia's wealthiest and  most prominent families. Her father, Francis Anthony Drexel, was a business partner of J.P. Morgan.  A pampered, well-tutored and much-traveled child, Katharine and her siblings were raised with a strong sense of social responsibility.  The Drexels offered food, clothing and money to the needy from their home at 1503 Walnut Street on a weekly schedule.  Katharine's youthful travels across the United States made her acutely aware of the depravations experienced by Native and African Americans, and undoubtedly influenced her shocking decision to become a Roman Catholic nun and join the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Pittsburgh.

Determined to use her inheritance to better the educational opportunities and social conditions of minorities in this country, Katharine Drexel established a religious order, The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, in 1891. That same year, Mother Katherine Drexel, as she was then called, purchased forty-four acres in Bensalem, Pennsylvania to build a Motherhouse and administrative headquarters for the order. From 1891 to 1933, the campus grew to ten buildings and at its peak, had 600 Sisters running schools around the country and in Haiti.

For 60 years, Drexel used her wealth to build and support schools and missions.  The first school, St. Catherine's Indian School, was a boarding school in Santa Fe, New Mexico that opened in 1894. In total, Drexel built 145 missions, 45 elementary schools, 12 high schools, and a University.

At her death in 1955, Katharine Drexel was laid to rest in the Motherhouse chapel. She was canonized as a Saint in 2000, and the Motherhouse complex became known as the National Shrine of Saint Katharine Drexel.

After 125 years, declining membership and financial pressures straining many Catholic orders brought about the decision by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to sell the National Shrine of Saint Katharine Drexel in Bensalem as well as an additional property outside of Richmond, Virginia.  The complex is too large for the Order's current and future needs. Freeman's is pleased to offer in our upcoming April 26 American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts Auction, a large collection of Native American made items formerly exhibited and stored on site at the National Shrine. Representing the Native American arts traditions and crafts that the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament encouraged in all of their schools, this collection, consisting of pottery, beadwork, weavings and basketry, is largely by Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo artisans, and the items were presented to the Sisters from many of the schools and missions they supported over the years.

Proceeds from the sale will go towards The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament ministry work and to the support its retired Sisters, about 50 of whom still live in the Motherhouse complex. The National Shrine of Saint Katharine Drexel of the Motherhouse campus will remain open to visitors through 2017. The remains of Saint Katherine Drexel will eventually be moved to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, and selections of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament archives will be entrusted to the Philadelphia Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

To be offered 04/26/17: A selection of Native American works from the Collection of The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament; Saint Katharine Drexel (by source, fair use, WIkipedia)

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