“If we wish to serve God and love our neighbor well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them. Let us open wide our hearts.”
- Saint Katharine Drexel
St. Augustine Indian Mission Carries On the Work of St. Katharine Drexel
Walk through the streets of the St. Augustine Indian Mission located in northeast Nebraska and you will still find evidence of the second American saint, Sister Katharine Drexel.
Drexel has had a profound effect on this region including the Winnebago and Omaha Indian Reservations. Many in this area, located about 85 miles north of Omaha, continue to walk in Drexel’s footsteps by ministering to the Native American children, Drexel held so close to her heart.
Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family on Nov. 26, 1858, Drexel was raised in an atmosphere of deep faith. Drexel and her two sisters were taught from an early age that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. The doors to the Drexel family home were open to serve the poor, and from a young age, Drexel was filled with a deep love of God and neighbor.
Drexel took a special interest in the material and spiritual well-being of Native Americans and African Americans. She began by donating her inheritance to organizations that supported these groups, but soon understood that more than money was needed. Drexel entered the religious life and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Black and Native American peoples.
Drexel dedicated her life and a $20 million fortune to this mission. In 1894, she opened her first mission school for Native American children in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Other schools quickly followed, and at the time of her death, over 500 sisters were teaching at 63 schools across the U.S., including the St. Augustine Indian Mission School.
Drexel died on March 3, 1955, at the age of 96. It was her lifelong dedication to her faith and selfless service to the oppressed that lead to her canonization on Oct. 1, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.
Today, only a handful of the schools founded by Drexel are still in existence. To sustain the mission of St. Katharine Drexel, the Archdiocese of Omaha took over financial responsibility for St. Augustine Indian Mission in 1944, so that it could remain open and continue to serve the residents of the Winnebago and Omaha Indian Reservations.
Father Dave Korth, Director of the St. Augustine Mission School shared, “To inherit this responsibility in our archdiocese is a gift and a blessing to our community. It allows us to carry on the work of a Saint and even walk on hallowed ground. If you have a desire to help others and are in search of a mission to serve, we invite you to support the St. Augustine Indian Mission and if at all possible to visit the Mission. The Mission is shared and the ideals belong to everyone in the archdiocese. Reaching out and supporting the Mission allows us to carry on St. Katharine’s work and serve our neighbors”
The ongoing commitment of the archdiocese to minister to the needs of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes is evident by the assignments of archdiocesan priests to reservation parishes and the St. Augustine School. The Missionary Benedictine Sisters now serve at the Mission along with a dedicated group of lay teachers and staff.
Like all Catholic schools in the archdiocese, St. Augustine School welcomes students of all faiths. Children who attend the school receive a top-quality education, while also learning about traditional Indian culture and language.
Enrollment at St. Augustine School has enjoyed steady growth over the past five years. Some graduates of the school have even enrolled in area Catholic high schools and are well-prepared for the academic rigors of those schools.
The success of St. Augustine and its graduates is a testament to the ability of education to help individuals rise above their circumstances and break economic barriers. Further, some improved employment opportunities in and around the Winnebago reservation have fueled a desire for greater educational opportunities for children living on the reservations.
Father Korth, shared, “The needs of St. Augustine Indian Mission are great, and the work it performs is vital to the children and the Winnebago and Omaha Indian Reservation communities in which they live.”
St. Augustine Indian Mission is humbled and grateful to accept donations of time, talent and treasure from all who want to support the important work that is being done in the parishes and school. The work of the Mission is not possible without the love and resources shared by many. If you are interested in learning more about St. Augustine Indian Mission, we invite you to contact us at 402-878-2402 and set up a visit.
The Native photographs pictured were provided by Father Don Doll, SJ with Creighton University.