St. Michaels Indian School has long been a respected institution in the Diocese of Gallup, but one thing was missing – a relic of its foundress, St. Katharine Drexel. Chris Paisano, who served as interim president of the school in 2014, wanted to give a final parting gift to the school before his term ended, and students now starting the school year can receive the benefit of that gift – a second-class relic, prominently displayed in the school chapel.
Paisano petitioned the Sister of the Blessed Sacrament for a relic, and ultimately received a piece of clothing worn by St. Katharine Drexel.
“We talk a lot about St. Katharine, but I wanted something to show that she was here”, Paisano said. “I figured, why not have a shrine or a relic in our Chapel, and get it dedicated formally by the Bishop or a priest. We need heavenly assistance to carry on the mission of St. Katharine.”
A special Mass was held, attended by the student faculty, and the relic was formally blessed and placed by Bishop Wall. During the Mass, Paisano noticed how many students kept glancing toward the newly displayed relic, toward the front right side of the chapel.
“The students kept looking up towards it, even as they were leaving,” he said. “The faculty and parents really love it, and the sisters who are here, especially.”
Paisano ultimately wants the relic to represent the legacy left by St. Katharine when she founded the school in the middle of the Navajo reservation.
“She actually traveled out here, before there were roads, before there was anything. Her idea was just to establish a place to teach kids, to give them more skills, a better life. And she brought the Gospel, and because of that, I’m in the fourth generation of Catholics in our family.”
Paisano, whose great-grandmother met Katharine Drexel when she came to the reservation, said that he grew up learning how to appreciate both his native Navajo culture and his Catholic faith. He hopes that this final major contribution from his time at St. Michaels School helps others to come to the same appreciation.
“It’s a beautiful thing, one of the last things I wanted to do as interim president,” he said. “Having it done, I knew that I could leave, that the school’s in good hands. It’s in her hands.”