St. Katharine Drexel's sisters announce plans to sell their motherhouse

Drexel motherhouse CNA The Saint Katherine Drexel motherhouse in Bensalem, Pa. | Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament will sell the Pennsylvania estate that hosts their motherhouse and the tomb of their founder, St. Katharine Drexel.

"We know the time is right to make this decision," the order's president Sister Donna Breslin said May 4. She said the sisters reached the decision "after prayer, study and reflection."

"It is leaving home," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's not easy. But we believe this is what God is asking of us."

The properties are too large for their current and future needs and for their financial resources, she said.

The estate in Bensalem, 18 miles northeast of Philadelphia, hosts the National Shrine of Saint Katharine Drexel and her tomb. The national shrine will remain open for visitors through 2017.

After the announcement, the local bishop praised the sisters for their service to others.

"The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are a gift to the Church. I pray for the success of their efforts and thank them for their selfless and dedicated service to others in the name of the Lord," Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said May 3.

Mother Katharine Drexel came from a prominent Philadelphia family. Her congregation especially focused on ministry to African-Americans and Native Americans. Between 1891 and 1935 she led her order in the founding and maintenance of almost 60 schools and missions, including New Orleans' Xavier University.

She died in 1955. St. John Paul II canonized her in October 2000. She was the second American-born saint to be canonized.

In 1891 St. Katharine Drexel purchased a 44-acre property in Bensalem, Pa. for her new congregation's motherhouse, which is now up for sale.

The congregation will also sell more than 2,200 acres near Powhatan, Va. The property is the former site of two schools for black students: St. Francis de Sales for girls and St. Emma Military Academy for boys.

The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament will celebrate their 125th anniversary in July. Their numbers peaked at over 600.

At present there are only 104 sisters, more than half of whom are retired.

The estate property has ten buildings with close to 229,000 square feet of living and workspace.

According to the sisters, the decision to sell these properties will help advance the mission of St. Katharine Drexel.

Sr. Breslin said the order will rededicate its resources to "our mission serving some of the most vulnerable people in the United States, Haiti and Jamaica."

"We also will use proceeds from the sales to challenge, in new ways, all forms of racism as well as the other deeply rooted injustices in the world," she said.

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The congregation's administrative offices will move, and the community's retired sisters will also benefit from the sale of the property.

The sisters have contracted with a firm to relocate the approximately 50 sisters now living at the Motherhouse, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s and in nursing care.

St. Katharine Drexel's corpse will be moved to Philadelphia's Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and placed near the altar that already honors her.

The archdiocese will take control of many of the archives of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

"The sisters have gone through much careful discernment and study prior to this decision," Archbishop Chaput said. "I applaud their careful forethought and efforts to ensure that they can carry on the mission and vision established by Saint Katharine Drexel."

"When the time is right to do so, the remains of Saint Katharine Drexel will be transferred to the care of the Archdiocese and entombed in an appropriate location in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul," he said. "It is both an honor and a blessing to accept this responsibility."

Sr. Breslin said that the relocation of the saint's remains will be like a return "to her second home."

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"The cathedral is where her family worshipped, and it's where she formed her faith," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer.