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Associates aid in advancing charism of St. Katharine Drexel

Associates of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament from the Archdiocese of Boston pose for a photo at their monthly meeting Feb. 14 at Katharine Drexel Parish Center in Roxbury. Pilot photo/Christopher S. Pineo

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ROXBURY -- While many were out buying dinner or flowers to show their love, the associates of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament spent their Valentine's Day showing their love for Christ at a gathering for prayer, reflection and business at the Katharine Drexel Parish Center on Ruggles Street.

Sister Christine Smith, SBS, said the associates help generally with social justice initiatives related to the ministry of reaching Black and Native American communities in the area, in keeping with the charism of St. Katharine Drexel. In Boston, women from St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Dorchester and St. Patrick Parish in Roxbury support the ministries of the sisters.

"Katharine was extremely open to all people of all colors and she would have been, what we would say, an apostle for social justice and an end to discrimination and racism particularly in the United States, a country that she loved," Sister Christine said.

St. Katharine Drexel came from a wealthy family in Philadelphia. From age 33 until her death in 1955, she dedicated her life to serving the Black and Native American communities in the United States. She took her first vows and established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891, taking the name Mother Drexel.

In 1894, Mother Drexel helped open the first mission school for Native Americans, in Santa Fe, N.M. In 1915, she founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the only school established by a saint. Katharine was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.

Her ministry of service and delivering spirituality to diverse communities continues in the congregation in Boston.

"I try to accept people as they are from all walks of life. Boston is a great opportunity for that because at St. Patrick's in Roxbury -- where I work and live -- I work with the Cape Verdean community. We also have a Spanish community that I am friendly with, and I work with the African American community -- what we call the English speaking community at St. Patrick's," Sister Christine said.

The work that associates commit themselves to, supporting SBS ministries, is geared toward living out and witnessing to the values, spirituality and mission of St. Katharine Drexel.

According to the national SBS website, associates commit themselves to specific, personal expression of their commitment as associates by praying with and for the sisters, studying Scripture, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and such works as visiting the sick, and tutoring.

The first group of associates of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for formed in 1992. Also that year, the order commissioned units at the Motherhouse, in New Orleans and in Los Angeles. With 19 such units, associates exist across the United States and Haiti.

Since the associates in the Boston area play active roles in their own parishes, Sister Christine said her work with the associates remains focused on the Eucharist.

"I hopefully am feeding others as I have been fed by Christ. I am feeding others the nourishment of the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion each day," she said.

She said the gatherings and work that the associates do fortifies the members for their work in the parishes, helping to keep faith communities alive within the Black communities in the archdiocese.

Barbara Perry, 80, an associate from St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Dorchester celebrated her birthday with the other associates on the night of Valentine's Day.

"I feel like everything we do is a spiritual thing," she said.

Perry said she remembered a time when there were many more sisters in the parish, and says helping out the sisters at the parish has become more important as the remaining sisters become more busy.

"Sister (Christine) never stops, but she will always take out time to visit the sick and I was part of that," she said.

The associates are planning to attend a national meeting in New Orleans at Xavier University in late June where sisters and associates will convene to discuss future ministries and build a larger sense of community.

"All over the world religious sisters of many orders are devoted to helping God's peoples and we as lay people are called to assist them in prayer and service, thereby consciously taking part in the unfolding of God's plan always in the Spirit of the Eucharist," Myrtle Cruz, 83, a parishioner at St. Patrick's in Roxbury, said.

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