St. Katherine Drexel

St. Katherine Drexel’s Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament announced earlier this week that they are marketing their foundress’s 44-acre Bucks County, Pennsylvania estate, along with another Drexel family property in Virginia, gifted to the Sisters a century ago.

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are on the wane—of 100 or so remaining, more than half are retired. Theirs is the same story playing out at civic and religious organizations across the country: sale of once-sacrosanct assets in order to make retirement payments and better steward assets in the face of decline. Grim stuff.

As always, there are silver linings. St. Katherine Drexel, canonized in 2000 and one of America’s few saints, came from a family whose wealth came from banking—from pragmatic rather than romantic approaches to decision-making. (Ideally you can make decisions that are both pragmatic and romantic. That’s always my goal.) It’s fitting that in the face of stark realities, the Sisters are making these pragmatic decisions. But that’s a very small silver lining.

A larger one is that St. Katherine’s remains will be permanently interred in the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter & Paul in Center City, Philadelphia. This is a better place for them over the centuries to come than where she is now in Bensalem. It’s a place that will see a numerically larger number of visitors, and it’s a better place for the long term stewardship of her remains.

A Facebook comment relating to these changes struck me as on-point: “I believe she was called forth to a particular extraordinary act at a particular moment in time.” This is the story of every saint: responding to the spirit and character of their time. It’s also the story of most religious orders.

Catholics across Greater Philadelphia are living through the contraction of what turned out to be a massively overbuilt set of institutions across our area. We’re not called to shepherd the structures born of our faith, but rather its spirit. Shedding ourselves of the overbuilt vestiges of our ancestors is a good step toward asking ourselves, “What are we called to be in this particular moment in time?” As opposed to presuming that our purpose as Christians is mainly the funding of deferred maintenance.

St. Katherine’s Motherhouse will continue to be beautiful after it finds itself in new hands. She and her order will continue to witness long after the last of her sisters are gone. And it’s in the witnessing that we figure out what we’re called to do next.