7.06.2011

Discerning Women - St. Katherine Drexel

It seems as if every time I return to Stella Maris Retreat Center, a ministry of my very own groovy sisters, I pick up on another bit of the history of the place. My first few visits here, mostly for community events, I was regaled with comical stories from when this house was the vacation house for the Sisters. Last year, I discovered our historic neighbor, U.S. Grant, whose summer cottage used to sit where our Chapel stands now.

This year I discovered an historic house guest ... St. Katherine Drexel. One day, as I was slowly walking down the hallway to the Chapel, I noticed this icon on the wall. Below it there was a note, saying that the nearby parish was celebrating it's 125th anniversary and that many of the church furnishings were donated by the Drexel family. Furthermore, it claimed that she had spent summers at Sea Cliff (now Stella Maris) and that it was here that she discerned her vocation to religious life.

I was intrigued. The next day, perusing the library I found a biography of Katherine Drexel which I proceeded to devour within a day. And guess what, she was in fact a frequent visitor to the very same house in which I was making my retreat!

Before the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace bought the property on the Jersey shore for their vacation house, it was owned by a series of wealthy families. One of those owners was George W. Childs, publisher of the Philadelphia Ledger and close friend of the Drexel family. In fact, he was one of the executor's of her father's will and considered by Katherine to be an "honorary uncle."

In her biography, I found an excerpt of a letter she wrote from Sea Cliff to her spiritual adviser, Archbishop O'Connor in 1885:

To tell the truth, it appears to me that God calls me to the religious life. But when will it be prudent for me to obey the call? Next week? This Fall? This Winter?--In what religious order? Please tell me, dear Father, what I should do to save my own soul, to save as many souls as possible, to devote myself and all I have to God and to His Church. You know that I have a leaning to the contemplative life--but you and Father Ardia both say no to that; You know that I long to bring the Indians into Mother Church.
Of course, in the end and with the guidance of her spiritual advisers she founded her own religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who have a special commitment to Native American and African American ministry.

But I digress. I read those words on a particularly fine day sitting on the 2nd floor balcony on the original part of the house, right outside what I imagine may have been guest rooms in the Childs'' Sea Cliff. She may have been looking out at the same view, more or less, that I was as she wrote these words.

I also recognized the urgency to her letter. If I'm honest, I think I may have written similar frantic e-mails and left similar voice mail messages, with Fr. Steve, my own spiritual adviser seven years ago when I was first discerning my own religious vocation.

Of course on this retreat, I was at a different place in my own discernment. In the place of the urgent anxiety to figure out where God was calling me, I found the deep peace of knowing that somehow, in the mystery of God's ways, I had found home--the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

And so, journeying with my new friend St. Katherine Drexel, I've spent the last week and a half on retreat to discern my request to profess final vows in November. The letter was mailed a few days ago, and I continue to find myself filled with deep and lasting peace with that decision.

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

We both spent the week with Mother Drexel! The house of my Sisters in Macon, where I visited this past week and where I'll be spending the next year, was originally a house of St Katherine Drexel's Sisters and she actually stayed in our house many times. Thank you for posting a brief history of her - I never knew that much about her.