Friday, March 17, 2017

A Saint in Bar Harbor
Among the visitors to Bar Harbor, ME during summers surrounding 1900 was Katharine Drexel. Based on her considerable inheritance, she would have accommodated well with the wealthy summer set there. She was unique, however, in that she didn’t take part in it. Her direction in life was diametrically opposite.

St. Katharine Drexel
(relic and prayer card)
Katharine was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1858, one of three daughters of wealthy banker Francis Drexel. Her mother, Hannah, died within five weeks of her birth. Having travelled out west with her family as a young girl, she was touched by the deplorable conditions of Native and African Americans. Following this emotion and her desire to serve God, she entered the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy in 1887. She received her final vows in 1891 and established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored and applied her love, motivation and inheritance to the fulfilment of the religious order’s mission. She died in 1955 at the age of 96. At the time of her death, her order’s accomplishments were monumental. They had started 50 missions for Native Americans in 16 states, opened 63 schools and founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the U.S. for African Americans.
Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament motherhouse

S.B.S. convent
Her association with Bar Harbor was tied to her sister Louise and brother-in-law Edward Morrell, who in 1897 had bought a 30-acre summer home named Thirlstane. They were generous contributors to the 1907 construction of Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church on Mount Desert Street. In 1913, at the request of Katharine, they donated land and a house on Ledgelawn Avenue for a convent close to Holy Redeemer. The convent became home to S.B.S. nuns and to Katherine when she visited.*1 They also donated money for Holy Redeemer’s first grammar school, a wooden building located on Ledgelawn Avenue, and its brick replacement, St. Edward’s School, built in 1914 behind the convent. There is a memorial plaque to Edward Morrell on a large granite boulder in front of the Jackson Laboratory off Route 3 on the south side of Bar Harbor.*2
St. Edward's School

Katherine Drexel’s body lies enshrined at the S.B.S. motherhouse in Bensalem, PA. For the good she brought to the poor and for the curative miracles attributed to her, she was beatified in 1988 and canonized a saint in the Catholic Church in 2000. Her feast day is celebrated on March 3.
St. Katharine Drexel crypt


1. The former convent is now the site of the Bar Harbor Historical Society and the school is an apartment building.
2. Morrell memorial GPS coordinates: N44° 21.823'  W068° 11.957'