Mother Katharine Drexel was born on November 26, 1858, to Francis Anthony and Hannah (Langstroth) Drexel. Francis Drexel, a very successful banker and a noted philanthropist, and his two brothers ran the house of Drexel & Co., founded by his father, and assisted in its phenomenal growth. Hannah Drexel died when Katharine was still an infant, and two years later, Francis Drexel married Emma Bouvier. Francis and Hannah Drexel had two daughters, Katharine and Elizabeth [later Mrs. Walter George Smith]. Francis also had a third daughter, Louise [later Mrs. Edward Morrell], with his second wife, Emma.
After the deaths of Francis and Emma Drexel in 1883 and 1885, respectively, Katharine and her sisters inherited a considerable fortune. During a visit to Pope Leo XIII, she asked him to recommend a religious order which worked with Indians and Blacks so that she could donate part of her fortune to their work. He challenged her to become a missionary herself, and she responded by beginning a novitiate with the Sisters of Mercy of Pittsburgh, Pa., and then forming the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People in 1891.
She used her huge fortune to assist missions and schools in Jamaica, Arizona, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois and other areas. Through her tireless efforts, she began more than forty-nine missions throughout the US. She also established Xavier University in New Orleans, La. During her last few years, as an invalid, she devoted herself to prayer until her death on March 3, 1955. During her lifetime, she had spent more than $12 million on assistance for Native and Black Americans. Her undying charity was recognized by the Catholic Church when she was recently canonized.
Father Abraham J. Emerick's life was also an example of untiring devotion and religious zeal. He was born on November 20, 1856, and began to study for the priesthood on November 7, 1876. He spent much of his early years as a priest as a missionary in Jamaica, where he helped build schools and churches. He applied to Mother Drexel for help in financing some of his projects, and thus their lifelong friendship began. She assisted him with many projects, including establising a hat factory where young girls could earn decent wages and avoid a life of suffering and sin. She also contacted him when she wished to start a Mission of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Philadelphia for blacks to congregate and worship. He ran this mission from October 1907 until May, 1909, when Archbishop Ryan indicated that he wished the Holy Ghost Fathers to take over the mission and proposed church. Father Emerick, S.J., in selecting a site for the mission, had insisted that it be located on Broad Street, in the center of Philadelphia, rather than in some forgotten side street. He also began successful clubs for the members of his mission which allowed them autonomy in decisions as well as finances.
After leaving the Mission of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Father Emerick spent most of his time catechizing and building schools and churches in St. Mary's County, Maryland. He served as pastor at St. Ingoes', St. Michael's, St. George's, St. Francis Xavier's, and St. Peter Claver's from 1910 - 1923. He also helped Father John LaFarge, S.J., and Father James Brent Matthews, S.J., erect the Church of St. James in 1915, and start four schools in 1916 and 1917. He also built a second church at St. Peter Claver's in 1918. He died on February 4, 1931. Additional information can be found on Father A. J. Emerick , S.J., in the Woodstock Letters and in histories of St. Mary's County, Maryland. Throughout his life, his "zeal and self-sacrifice...[his] love and devotion" impressed all who knew him. [Mother M. Katharine Drexel, Letters dated 11/04/1905 and 12/ 02/1906]