BENSALEM, Pa.—A medical board for the Vatican ruled Oct. 7 that there was no natural cause for the cure of a 17 month-old child's deafness.
The child was born with nerve deafness in 1992 and medical tests confirmed the condition in September 1993. In November, the family learned that prayer for the intercession of Blessed Katherine Drexel resulted in the miraculous restoration of hearing to Robert Gutherman's right ear.
The announcement by the medical board brings Blessed Katherine one step closer to sainthood. Next, the miracle must be affirmed by a board of theologians before a final decision by Pope John Paul II. If approved, Blessed Katherine would be the second American-born saint. St. Elizabeth Seton of New York was canonized in 1975.
The medical board's decision was welcomed by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the order founded by Mother Drexel.
“Everybody here is excited today,” Sister Louis Francis, who knew Blessed Katherine, told the Register.
“We all were very inspired by her generosity and the way she lived her life,” Sister Louis said. “She was interested in all of us sisters.”
Born in Philadelphia to a wealthy family, Katherine grew up learning the importance of payer and work, especially in the service of others. She inherited $20 million from her family but dedicated herself to helping the poor.
After learning about the hardships endured by Indians in America's west, Katherine decided to dedicate her efforts to this community.
Sister Francis told the Register, “She traveled a lot and she found out how the Indians were neglected. She sent them money to build churches and schools.”
She later found out that blacks in the South were also living in poor conditions and were in need of special attention. She would also eventually focus some of her order's effort on foreign missions.
“She gave her whole life to the evangelization and education of these communities,” Sister Ruth Catherine, guild director for the Sisters for the Blessed Sacrament, told the Register.
She built over 100 schools for blacks, and over 60 schools for American Indians, Sister Ruth said.
“She was a very nice person. She was a holy angel,” Sister Louis told the Register.
Katherine decided to become a religious following the death of her father. Aided her wealth she founded the Sisters for the Blessed Sacrament for Indian and Colored People on Feb. 14, 1891. Today, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament continue Mother Drexel's legacy with 48 missionary sites in 12 states and Haiti. Schools like St. Ignatius Loyola Elementary School in Philadelphia and Xavier University in New Orleans are run by her order
Blessed Katherine guided her congregation for 44 years before suffering a heart attack iIn 1935. For the next two decades she was confined to the moth-erhouse in Bensalem, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, where she devoted herself primarily to prayer. She died on March 3, 1995, at he age of 96.
Sister Regina Tracy holds the founder of her order in high regard. “What she did as a person —reaching out to the poor and depressed when no one else would — is remarkable,” Sister Regina Tracy told the Register.
Pilgrims continue to visit the moth-erhouse, which now includes Blessed Katherine's tomb, often asking for her intercession. Her shrine contains personal effects from her childhood desk to her office desk. Visitors can view a video that tells the story of Katherine Drexel's life and the work of her congregation.
Artifacts from the communities she touched are also found in the shrine. Some of the items include ebony, ivory and wood carvings from Haiti, Mali and Kenya. American Indian items include a Navajo rug, Sioux moccasins, and Pueblos pottery and terra-cotta.
“She is one marvelous woman,” said Sister Ruth. “Hopefully now her life will be an inspiration to others.”