PHILADELPHIA—When Pope John Paul II approved a miracle as proof of Katharine Drexel's sanctity, he communicated that information to a number of key parties in the United States through Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the archbishop of Philadelphia.
That's because “Philly” is Blessed Katharine's hometown, the site of her order's motherhouse, and the home diocese to 7-year-old Amanda Wall of Bucks Country, Pa., the young girl who was healed through the future saint's intercession.
The feast day of soon-to-be St. Katharine is March 3.
Cardinal Bevilacqua has been a close observer of Blessed Katharine's cause since becoming archbishop of Philadelphia in the 1980s. He recently spoke with Register Radio correspondent Rich Rinaldi about the prospective saint and the recent events that will soon culminate in her canonization, sometime during the Great Jubilee.
Rinaldi: Please tell us about the recent events that have touched on Blessed Katharine Drexel's cause.
Cardinal Bevilacqua: On Jan. 27th the Pope issued the decree in which he officially recognized the second miracle for Katharine Drexel. The first one was necessary for her to be declared blessed; this one is necessary for her to be canonized a saint.
What formalities remain?
One needs to take place at the beginning of March when the Holy Father will meet in consistory with all the cardinals [to] present this miracle by Mother Katharine Drexel, probably along with some other [candidates for canonization as well as beatification], and ask if they agree that they should either be beat-ified or canonized. The cardinals will respond — they usually respond in the affirmative. Then there is the actual setting of the date for the canonization, and then the canonization ceremony [itself].
Tell us about the child who was healed.
She likes to be known as Amy, but her name is Amanda Wall, a lovely young girl I never met until … January. She is very unassuming, and you can see that she is a very holy girl herself and kind of shy. The smile on her face is the smile of the spirit within her.
She was cured of total nerve deafness. [Her hearing] was so minimal her parents could not get her to respond. They would bang pots behind her and she would not respond.
And they prayed to Blessed Katharine Drexel?
They prayed, but it was a very strange set of circumstances. They did not really pray for Amy to hear at the beginning. [Mrs. Wall] could not communicate with her daughter and there wasn't intimacy like a mother should have with a child because the child never responded. So she prayed that she could have communication with her daughter. She felt her prayers were answered when a woman with a daughter who was deaf introduced [the Walls] to the world of deaf children. She brought them to a school for the deaf and Amy and her mother soon learned to speak sign language, and a true intimacy began and flourished between mother and daughter. She could now actually communicate with her daughter. The daughter could tell her mom when she was hungry and so on, and the mother loved that communication and that was [a true answer] to her prayer.
But the story doesn't end there.
It was only later that Amy's brother Jack was making his first Communion, and was taught about miracles. He came home and said, “Let's not only pray for Amy's communication, but lets pray for a miracle that she is healed from this deafness.”
The mother began, reluctantly at first, to pray to Mother Katharine Drexel for a miracle. She had seen a TV documentary on Mother Drexel and how the first miracle of Mother Katharine's was in favor of a deaf boy, also from Philly. At the prompting of the son, their young boy, the whole family began to pray for a miracle.
They then got a relic and applied it to Amy's ear. Within a short time the mother was told by Amy's teacher at school that, “I don't think your daughter is one of us anymore.” [Mrs. Wall] did not want to believe at first because Amy had such a happy life with the other deaf children and mothers at the school. Even Amy felt sad when she began to hear, even keeping it quiet for a long time because she didn't want to be separated from that world of deaf children and their families. It was a beautiful world, she said.
But then she realized she was fully healed, and it meant that she would have to be separated from that other world of the deaf.
Can you tell us about Mother Drexel's life? I understand her inheritance was substantial.
Yes, it was between $14 and $20 million, a huge amount. She established the [Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament] to take care of Native-Americans and the African-Americans. She was gradually led into this even before she became a nun — she originally wanted to become a cloistered nun. She and her other two sisters helped the poor a great deal with those funds. She received a huge inheritance that today would be hundreds of millions. The three daughters were raised in a very religious and holy family and so they gave a lot of their money away for various causes. Blessed Katharine was asked by a bishop-friend of hers to [help relieve] the plight of Native-Americans in the Dakotas and in the Southwest and then she heard of the poor blacks in the South.
What made her actually decide to begin this work and to do it as a religious?
She was moved by [the response of] Pope Leo XIII when she asked him, “Why don't you send more priests to help the poor blacks and Indians.” He told her, “Why don't you become a missionary?” That stayed on her mind and, through the influence of Bishop O'Connor of Omaha, Neb., she thought of establishing an order of her own. All the money she received from her father was used for those two missions, the Native-Americans and the African[-American]s. While she received that money, it was not hers by [reason of] her vow of poverty.
Tell us about the sisters' apostolate.
When she established her order it was specifically for the poor among the African-Americans and the Native-Americans, solely for them. In [addition to the] usual vows of poverty chastity and obedience, … she took a fourth vow for herself to be the mother of the Indians and the Negroes, according to the rules of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She added [that she would] not take any work that would lend to the neglect or abandonment of the Indian and colored races. It was solely for those two minority groups.
You have in your archdiocese two saints.
We are very proud of that, and it is unique for the United States. Here we have St. John Neumann who was the forth bishop of Philadelphia, canonized in 1977. And now we will have St. Katharine Drexel.
How unusual is that?
That's extremely unusual. It is certainly unique in the United States. There are cities in Europe, obviously, but not that many. We're very proud of that. I hope the people of Philly realize that, and that both saints worked extensively with the poor. I hope Mother Drexel can be named patron of social justice. Remember, while she had found the mission for the blacks and Native-Americans, [it] was contrary to the attitude and the culture of the times. She was a forerunner in social justice and human rights for minority groups. The separation of the races was considered legal. She was way ahead of her time.