If it were reported by news outlets today, the headline would read, “Heiress Gives Up Two Hundred Million.”

In 1889, after years of wrestling with a desire to enter the religious life, St. Katharine Drexel decided to give it all away, trading her fine gowns and linens for the black and white habit and exchanging elaborate socials and frivolous adventures abroad for the community life of the convent, and vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The $7 million inheritance (equivalent to about $200 million today) from her father, international banker Francis Anthony Drexel, was used to found and fund the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. In her thirty-five years of ministry, she founded 145 missions, 50 schools for African Americans, and 12 schools for Native Americans. Her crowning achievement may be the founding of Xavier University in Louisiana, which is still the United States’ only Catholic HBCU (historically black college and university).

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