Holy Ones: Henri Nouwen and Katharine Drexel

March and Lent are upon us. I like winter and am fine with the fact that spring has not yet sprung where I live. However, in checking on the date of Easter this year (April 1), I think it may not necessarily feel so springy either! And I wonder how many times in the past 100 years has Easter fallen on April Fool’s Day…..

I will be attending a two-day institute entitled “Henri Nouwen: The Way of Compassion.” So I am reading some of Nouwen’s books to prepare. Some of his writing is deceptively simple. It is easy to read a sentence and go on to the next. You don’t have to stop and think of meanings of words, or break down long sentences—things we do automatically as we read. But then, something—the Holy Spirit?—gets my attention. Go back to the previous sentence, it seems to say. So I do, and I read it over, and over, and think about it, and talk about it…… For information on the First Annual Institute for Christian Spirituality, go to www.ecinstitutes.com

If you have or work with kids: here is a story for children of an American saint whose feast day is in March. This story and the activity suggestions to go with it are from my book, A CIRCLE OF SAINTS, which is a collection of 30 saint stories for the liturgical year. See it here: https://anneneuberger.com/product/a-circle-of-saints-stories-and-activities-for-children/

St. Katharine Drexel

Feast Day: March 3

Life dates: 1858-1955

 Born into incredible wealth, Katharine Drexel was well-educated, widely traveled, and part of elite Philadelphia society. Her parents also introduced their children to a deep spirituality, and included them in ongoing acts of charity and justice. Born before the Civil War, Katharine lived in a tumultuous era of United States history. (It is interesting to note the similarities of life dates of St. Katharine and St. Josephine Bakhita, who lived from 1869-1947.) Katharine’s extensive travels enabled her to see the prejudice directed towards Native and African Americans, and the resulting poverty, hunger, and lack of education. As an adult, she was devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, and after prayerful soul-searching, Katharine decided to live a life of voluntary simplicity and founded a religious order. She used her entire fortune for establishing schools and churches for Native and African American children across the United States, including a university. Against segregation, she understood that segregated schools were the most to be hoped for at the time, and that the greatest good was the academic and religious education itself.

 Katharine offers a clear example of sharing. Her story can be a springboard for talking about racial prejudice, its devastating results, and Jesus’ teachings to love one another, and a Catholic’s response to the injustices of the time.


Katharine Drexel and her sisters played as the train sped along. They had the whole train car to themselves, for it belonged to their family!


Katharine traveled to many places, was taught by the best teachers, wore pretty dresses and danced at balls. Katharine’s family was very, very rich.


They also loved God very, very much, and knew God wanted them to share with others. Three days a week, her mother invited people into their home and gave them food, money, clothes or other help. She taught school in their home for poor children, and Katharine helped.


And, loving God, they were a prayerful family. Her father prayed every evening by himself, and the family prayed each day in their own chapel.


Now Katharine looked out the train window. “Oh, Mama, look!” she cried. The train was passing shabby houses where hungry-looking children sat on porches. “They look so very poor!” Katharine said.


Her mother took her hand and explained, “There many situations that cause people to be poor. For these children, much of it has to do with unfair laws. Some laws even say they cannot go to school.”


Bewildered, Katharine looked at her father. He was praying.


Katharine grew up. She could have lived a grand life of travel and huge houses. But Katharine could not forget the people her mother helped. She especially could not forget the poor children that were not allowed to go to school.


She prayed and decided she would use all her money to help them get a good education. She left her easy life behind. She became a nun and a leader of other women who joined her. Working very hard, Katharine spent the rest of her long life setting up schools for children all over the United States.


[Feast Day Celebration]

Food ideas:

St. Katharine traveled by train all her life, first in luxury, then by as a humble passenger carrying a lunch sack. The train is also symbolic of God transported her from a sensitive little girl to a woman actively doing God’s work in the world. Children can make train cookies by frosting graham crackers and pressing goodies into the frosted rectangle to provide details, such as red or black shoelace licorice to create doors or other lines on the train car, squares of a chocolate bar for windows, and vanilla wafers for wheels.



Explain to children that when Katharine was setting up schools, there were laws that said children of different races could not go to school together. This is called segregation. Katharine knew these laws were wrong, but until these laws were changed, the best thing she could do was make certain the poorest children had good schools. Encourage some children to make a poster to hang near the table that shows children of all races of playing or learning together. If possible, provide them with photos from mission magazine, etc. for this. Other children can take multi-colored paper to make a paper chain to hang above the table. Explain that the different colors linked together are a symbol of people in all their differences (height, age, culture, religion, homes, etc.) are all one people in God’s eyes.


If you know someone who has a clear story to tell of segregation before the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, or someone who has experienced discrimination in another country, ask that person to come in and share that story with the children.


Books for kids about segregation at different times in American history:

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Pink and Say by Patricia Polocco

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki


The youngest children may enjoy playing as if they are Katharine and her sisters who helped their mother teach school in their home.



Lead children in an impromptu prayer for children all over the world who experience discrimination.