The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the historic order of religious sisters serving African Americans and the Indigenous, will hold its annual gala on Sunday, April 30, at 3pm ET in Pennsylvania.
The 132-year-old community, founded by the famed Philadelphia heiress St. Katharine Drexel, will host the event at the Buck Hotel in Feasterville, roughly three miles from the SBS motherhouse.
“Our theme this year is Empowerment and Unity. We strive to show that we are unified, we have a collective purpose, and we are determined to have faith in humanity,” reads an event description on the sisters’ website.
“By joining us, you will help ensure that our ministries in education, social services, health care, and parish and pastoral ministries continue the mission of St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.”
The order recently celebrated the feast of St. Katharine on March 3, following an annual novena to foster devotion to the unique American saint. Her death in 1955 marked the end of an unprecedented era of individual Catholic philanthropy, in which she used today’s equivalent of $20 million to support Black and Indigenous missions, schools, churches, and projects across the United States.
This followed Drexel’s abandonment of high society in her late 20s to enter religious life, founding the SBS Sisters in 1891 on the advice of Pope Leo XIII. 45 years after her death, she was canonized by Pope John Paul II as the first saint born a U.S. citizen. Her shrine is now located at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
At their peak, the SBS Sisters numbered more than 600 members. Today, they have been described as “an aging congregation,” with only one sister younger than 60, among roughly a hundred members overall. They are currently led by an African-American president, Sr Stephanie Henry, and continue to operate a dozen educational institutions, including a number of Black Catholic schools in Louisiana, Virginia, and Tennessee.
The sisters also continue to teach at and serve on the board of Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, the nation’s only Catholic HBCU. The school was founded by Drexel in 1925 and celebrated her feast last month with a classical music concert.
Next week’s gala will support the sisters’ ministries and will also feature the bestowal of the sisters’ annual St. Katharine Drexel National Justice Award. Last year’s recipient was another Black-serving Catholic religious community, the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart (the Josephites).
While registration for Sunday's gala is closed, interested parties can financially support the event via a form on the SBS Sisters’ website. Donations can also be mailed to the SBS Development Office at 4 Neshaminy Interplex Drive, Suite 205, Trevose, Pennsylvania 19053.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.