University of Notre Dame | November 27, 2019
On the Navajo Nation, a territory encompassing 27,000 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, sits a lone Catholic school — Saint Michael Indian School. There, 400 students from preschool to high school are educated in both the Catholic faith and the Navajo culture, just as the school’s founder intended in 1902.
That founder, St. Katharine Drexel, the second American-born saint, was born to a wealthy and pious family in Philadelphia. Though she could have lived as an heiress, she became interested in the unfortunate situation of Native Americans and African Americans during a family visit to the West. She became a nun with the Sisters of Mercy before establishing her own religious congregation called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored. She then set out to create schools for Native Americans and African Americans. In total, she founded 63 schools, 50 missions and a college, Xavier University of Louisiana.
Today, only one of the 63 schools remains in operation: Saint Michael Indian School. But the school’s president, Dot Teso, hopes to resume what St. Katharine began.
“My dream for her schools is to build more schools on the reservations in the Southwest and particularly the Navajo nation. By giving the people of this community something to hope for and by introducing donors and other people, inviting participation, we’re going to be able to build more schools,” she says. “This is basically the cornerstone of the future of her mission.”
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