A Force For Change From An Unlikely Source
Appalled by the existing conditions of the Native Americans and African American communities, Katharine Drexel, a wealthy Philadelphia socialite, made numerous appeals to American leadership for change. Additionally, she petitioned the Catholic Church to provide assistance. Finding insufficient support her cause, Katharine finally obtained an audience with Pope Leo XIII. Once more she made her plea for assistance. Pope Leo's response provided for change if Katharine herself would lead.
"Why not, my child, yourself become a missionary?"
While she was initially stunned by the suggestion, slowly Katharine began to realize the impact the Pope's words would allow. Katharine could now follow her heart, establish her own order of nuns under a direct suggestion from the highest official of the Church, and focus her efforts and resources on improving opportunities, without the need for approval every step of the way.
Katharine Drexel devoted her life and fortune to developing a school system of her own - a system with standards at least equal to any other school system in existence. Ironically, she chose a location only 30 miles from the capital of the South to build her first.
100 years ago, Katharine started spending her inheritance, an estimated $25,000,000 fortune, building an educational system for citizens placed at a growing disadvantage by the laws of their own country.
Many of these students went on to become lawyers, business leaders, community leaders, doctors, nurses, entertainers and other contributing members to our society. America has undoubtedly benefited.
St. Francis de Sales, in Powhatan Co., was one of the first and is one of the last in existence.
The Beginning Of A New Century And New Opportunity
St. Francis de Sales Institute opened in 1899l. Shortly thereafter, the school received its state high school accreditation. The school was equipped, furnished, and designed with only the best. The atmosphere was one of privilege, one designed to promote dignity, self-respect and a high degree of learning. Tuition was $60 a year. Scholarships and half scholarships were granted to those who could not afford the fees.
St. Francis de Sales (named after Katharine’s father) served as a model for her 55 schools for disadvantaged African Americans. In all, Katharine spent approximately 25 million dollars building her system. Her faculty and administration - The Sisters from her own order, stretched those dollars exponentially. The system continued to grow as graduates from these schools returned home as teachers and taught what they had learned.