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September 8, 2023
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v2.1 Reference

Veiled Leadership

Katharine Drexel, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and Race Relations

On the rainy morning of October 1, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Mother Katharine Drexel. Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family, Drexel bucked society and formed the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. Her compelling personal story has excited many biographers who have highlighted her holiness and catalogued her good deeds. During her life, newspapers called her the "Millionaire Nun," and much of the literature on Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament exalts Katharine Drexel's disbursement of her vast fortune to benefit Black and Indigenous people. The often repeated stories of a riches to rags holy woman miss the true significance of what Mother Katharine and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament attempted. Drexel was not merely the ATM of Catholic Home Missions; rather, she challenged the hierarchy to reimagine its mission in the United States. In an era when the Church controlled the actions and censored the opinions of women religious, they had to listen to Mother Katharine. Most writing on Drexel and the SBS focus on Drexel's spiritual journey, but Veiled Leadership traces the daily operations of her charitable empire and looks at how the Sisters implemented Drexel's vision in the field. The SBS were not always welcomed in the communities they served, and they experienced conflict from both white supremacists and the people they wanted to aid.

Veiled Leadership examines the lives of Mother Katharine and her congregation within the context of larger constructs of gender, race, religion, reform, and national identity. It explores what happens when a non-dominant culture tries to impose its views and morals on other non-dominant cultures. In other words, as outliers themselves—they were semi-cloistered Catholic women from primarily immigrant backgrounds in a culture that regarded their lifestyles as alien and unnatural—their attempts to Americanize and assimilate Black and Indigenous people, whose families had been in the country for generations longer than the nuns' own, adds complexity to our understanding of cultural hegemony.

About the Author

Amanda Bresie is the current President of the Texas Catholic Historical Association and teaches at the Greenhill School, Addison, TX.


"Offers a desperately needed feminist reclamation of the startling breadth and ambition of Drexel's work, which serves as a welcome counterpoint to the prevailing narrative of a saintly, passive heiress who renounces her personal fortune in sacrificial service to the church."—Mark Clatterbuck, Montclair State University

"In this graceful and grace-filled book, Amanda Bresie wrestles with the complexities and contradictions inherent in the quest of St. Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to win the benefits of full citizenship for two groups long denied them: members of Indigenous nations and African Americans. Employing prayer, unprecedented political activism, and a unique American fortune, they had to battle their own prejudices, the intransigence of the Catholic hierarchy, and the champions of white supremacy and anti-Catholic bigotry. Bresie deals honestly with the painful realities of the boarding school system and Drexel's strategy of supporting segregated schools in order to provide Black children the superior education she believed they deserved."—Marian J. Barber , former director of the Catholic Archives of Texas

"Amanda Bresie's book on Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People (SBS) makes an important contribution not only to women's history but also to American religious history. Drexel's life and the work of the SBS show the complexity of American mission work operating within the secular contexts of race, gender, and Americanization done in the Progressive Era. Bresie attends to the nuances of evangelization that allowed these Catholic women to participate in reform movements focused on helping minority communities but does not shy away from critiquing the positionality of privilege and whiteness in their work. This book examines the blending of sacred and secular—theological beliefs and lived religious practice—in the work to use the teachings of the Church to transform society. In this way, Bresie identifies Drexel and the SBS as another important stream of the Social Gospel movements impacting the landscape of American religious history, this one from a Catholic perspective and advanced by a woman."—Lisa Barnett, Philips Theological Seminary

9780813237237 : veiled-leadership-bresie
Paperback / softback
300 Pages
$34.95 USD

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