Monday, 29 October 2007
Roy Has a Friend in Heaven
By Nancy Leitz
My husband, Roy, never could understand the Catholic Church and, believe me, that is the understatement of the year. It all started when we wanted to get married in 1950 and the Catholic priest in my parish told him that we could not have a Nuptial Mass and wedding because he was not Catholic.
This baffled him and he responded to the priest, "But my Presbyterian Church will allow us, why won't you?" The priest's only reply was the standard,"If you would like to convert to Catholicism, then you can be married in the Church."
Well, conversion was the last thing Roy wanted to do so we decided to go to a neutral church to be married and chose St. Mark's Episcopal in Philadelphia. Of course, this caused a lot of trouble with my Catholic family members and friends (my own brother did not attend our wedding and neither did our best friends who were to be Best Man and Maid of Honor).
In 1953, when the Church came to its senses and allowed Catholics and Protestants to marry IN the church, I wanted to return and for my sake only, Roy went along and we were remarried in the Catholic Church. But you can see why the Church did not endear itself to my husband.
By 1955, we had our third child and Roy was doing very well as a union pipefitter. It was an excellent trade to be in. The work was steady and interesting and the pay and benefits were good. It took five years of night school to attain journeyman status in his business, but in the end all the sacrifices were worth it.
One day, his company called and told him to report to Mother Katherine Drexel School in Cornwell Heights, Pennyslvania. They were doing a lot of work at the school and our company had been awarded some of the contracts.
After being at the school for a few weeks, Roy began to have an interest in Mother Katherine Drexel who had died in 1955, at the school. He began to read about her and found that the school was built exclusively for "Indians and Colored People" in 1891. Now he was really interested in the founder and went to the library for a biography. What he found was very interesting.
Katherine had been born in 1858, into the Drexel Family who were fabulously wealthy bankers. She inherited their vast fortune when they died and had joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1889. In 1891, she used her great wealth to form the Society of the Blessed Sacrament and devote her life to Indian and Black children. She opened 60 schools around the country including Xavier University in New Orleans, the first institution for black students. One of her schools was in Cornwell Heights and in her later years, it also became her residence. She died there in the school she loved.
So Roy admired Mother Katherine very much for all she had done and often mentioned that she was rich enough to never work and could spend all of her time traveling and playing but chose to help small, disadvantaged children instead. He never failed to praise her for that.
Someone was always proposing sainthood for Mother Katherine but nothing came of that suggestion for years, so it took me by surprise in 1988, when Roy picked up the Philadelphia Inquirer and read an article, then in great anger threw the paper to the floor and began berating the Catholic Church for their terrible action.
He shouted at no one in particular, "I know Mother Katherine was not very attractive, but this is the worst they've ever done. What are they going to do? Fix up her hair? Put make up on her? Oh, this is disgraceful. I am so ashamed of that Catholic Church for this."
I was really puzzled and bent down and picked up the paper to see what he had read that started this tirade. Here was the headline:
CATHOLIC CHURCH TO BEATIFY MOTHER KATHERINE DREXEL
He had misread the word "beatify". He thought it said "beautify" and he was ready to call up the Pope on this one. He was relieved when I asked him to read it again and he saw that it was his mistake and that they really were taking steps to canonize her and were in no way criticizing her looks.
Saint Katherine Drexel was canonized on October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II.