by Julie A. Ferraro
March 3, 2015, proved to be no ordinary school day at St. Michael Indian School in Arizona. Bishop James Wall of the Gallup Diocese concelebrated Mass in the school’s chapel with Fr. Jack Robinson, OFM, provincial minister of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, and many other priests, honoring the feast day of St. Katharine Drexel.
Bishop Wall urged the students in attendance, along with Franciscan friars, Sisters of various congregations, and alumni, to “respond in love” in the same manner St. Katharine did when she came to the Southwest. “She had a special love for Native American peoples,” proclaimed Bishop Wall, adding, “She listened to the voice of God. She saw a need, and she met that need.”
Recounting how, in 1936, Eugenio Pacelli – who was elected Pope Pius XII three years later – visited the United States, Bishop Wall noted how St. Katharine “had a lot of pull.” She urged the future Pope not to forget those under her care, and he extended his visit to what he would designate the Diocese of Gallup during his See.
At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Wall blessed medals of St. Katharine for the students. Then, those in attendance enjoyed lunch in the school, and presentations by the students on their projects for the “Miracle Fair”. Investigating miracles performed by Catholic saints, the youngsters highlighted St. Dominic, St. Silvan, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Katharine Drexel, among others.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, on November 26, 1858, Catherine Mary Drexel defied society’s expectations by joining the Sisters of Mercy in 1889. As Mother Katharine, dedicated to working with Native American and African Americans in the western United States, she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891, with 13 other women.
St. Katharine donated the land on which St. Michael’s has stood for over 100 years. Her avid passion for missionary work, bolstered by wealth inherited from her father, made the dream of a school for Native American children possible. She encouraged Franciscan friars from St. John the Baptist Province to help establish the school, providing the Sacraments for the Sisters, the students and their families.
Bishop Wall linked the chain from St. Katharine to the Franciscan friars to his own family’s conversion to Catholicism in the nearby community of Chinle. Sr. Zoe Brenner, SBS, a former high school teacher at St. Michael, explained how honoring St. Katharine is “all about letting kids know what’s important. It’s what keeps the Church going.”
Fr. Don Billiard, OFM, currently serves as chaplain at St. Michael. He likes to see the children – some who travel many miles each day to attend classes – excited about their faith. He enjoys being around the young people and facing the challenge of evangelization, especially since not all the students at St. Michael are Catholic.
Reminding the students that St. Katharine herself walked the grounds of St. Michael Indian School many times before her death in 1955, the alumni shared stories of her influence, and what a blessing the school has been to generations of Native Americans – and will continue to be, because of her “very Christlike” dedication and love, as Bishop Wall so aptly expressed it.
Watch the Mass: