The relocated tomb of St. Katharine Drexel, the Philadelphia heiress who gave up her fortune for a life devoted to helping marginalized communities, was unveiled by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday in its new home at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City.
The modest sarcophagus of beige sandstone was moved in August from the 44-acre Bensalem estate of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious community founded by St. Katharine in 1891.
Her remains had been at the Bucks County shrine for 63 years, but the religious order has suffered a crippling decline in membership. The nuns can no longer maintain the estate and are selling the property.
In a news conference, the Rev. Dennis Gill, rector of the cathedral, described the move as St. Katharine "coming home" to a house of worship that was important to her and her family.
The tomb, now open to the public, is on the chapel-side aisle in the rear of the cathedral, next to an altar dedicated to the Drexel family. It sits below an arch-shape mosaic commemorating the 41st International Eucharistic Congress, held in Philadelphia in 1976. The mosaic depicts Catholic life in Philadelphia, including an image of St. Katharine.
The archdiocese will officially mark the installation of the remains with a Mass scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at the cathedral, with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput presiding.
"The fact that she is no longer at the Motherhouse is a loss for me," said Sister Donna Breslin, president of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. "But I believe many people will come to know about her in her new home. Most important, they will know about the mission that God entrusted to her and her community."
The religious community has an agreement of sale with Bucks County-based Aquinas Realty Partners, which plans to build a senior housing complex on the parcel. Another property owned by the order, of 2,200 acres, has a prospective buyer, Breslin said.
Proceeds from the sale will be used to fund international charitable initiatives and care for the order's aging nuns. The community has 87 sisters, ranging in age from the early 50s to nearly 100. Most live at Paul's Run, a continuing care community in Northeast Philadelphia. The order's administrative offices remain on the Bensalem estate.
St. Katharine was the daughter of a wealthy investment banker. The socially prominent Drexels regularly distributed food, clothing, and monetary support to poor families, and St. Katharine and her sisters participated in the philanthropic efforts as children and adults. When she asked Pope Leo XIII for help staffing an American Indian mission she was supporting, the pontiff suggested she become a missionary. St. Katharine decided to devote her life to assisting American Indians, African Americans, and poor people. She entered the Sisters of Mercy convent in Pittsburgh in 1889 and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament two years later. She was canonized in 2000.
The tomb's construction was underwritten by a grant from the Connelly Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization based in West Conshohocken. The donation also will also fund a new communications and education program about St. Katharine.