By James McGinnis
The first Native American archbishop knelt before the tomb of a saint who dedicated her life to the plight of Native Americans.
For his consecration as the bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota in 1988, Chaput prostrated himself atop a star quilt of the Lakota tribe.
Nine years later, he was appointed archbishop of Denver as Native Americans pounded drums in that city’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The church has a duty to “defend the dignity of Native Americans, deepening their self-respect as children of God, and insisting on that same respect for Native Americans from wider American culture,” Chaput told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Drexel might have used similar words in 1887, when she traveled to the Vatican, seeking an audience with the Pope.
The daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia couple, Drexel visited the American Southwest and was disturbed by the poverty and suffering among tribal peoples.
Not yet a member of the clergy, Drexel asked Pope Leo XIII to send missionaries to those tribes. The Pope responded: “Why not, my child, yourself become a missionary?”
In 1891, she professed her first vows, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose mission would be to share the message of the gospel among Native and African Americans.
Her schools often were spared the wrath of angry tribal leaders who burned other buildings on the reservations.
A letter from the sisters at one such mission gave Drexel the good news that her school had been spared. Chief Red Cloud convinced the young warriors that “Blackrobes always acted kindly towards the Indians.”
She became a nun, and took the name Sister Katharine, dedicating herself and her inheritance to the needs of oppressed Native Americans and African-Americans in the western and southwestern United States, and was a vocal advocate of racial tolerance. She established a religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. She also financed more than 60 missions and schools around the United States, and founded Xavier University of Louisiana--the only historically black, Roman Catholic university in the United States to date.
Drexel was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 20, 1988, and canonized on October 1, 2000, one of only a few American saints and the first American-born saint. The Vatican cited a fourfold legacy of Drexel: A love of the Eucharist and perspective on the unity of all peoples; courage and initiative in addressing social inequality among minorities; her efforts to achieve quality education for all; and selfless service, including the donation of her inheritance, for the victims of injustice. She is known as the patron saint of racial justice and of philanthropists.
Two, this statement:
Even that wouldn't wash away the blood on the Church's hands. But it would be a start.
For more on the subject, see Potawatomi Bishop in Philadelphia and Catholics to Ban Indian Practices?