Last Days of Visitation at the National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel in Bensalem, Pennsylvania

Like any residents in the Philadelphia area who know of Mother Katharine Drexel, I too made the pilgrimage in the last days of visitations before the closing of the shrine. The grounds of Saint Katharine Drexel will be sold in the near future, and I am told sale is imminent. They are now awaiting approval from the pope. I walked into the shrine from a bitter cold winter day and made my way through the chapel to the downstairs shrine. The first thing I noticed was how much warmer it is in the shrine area. Not sure if it is just because of all the people who have been frequenting the shrine since the announced sale and closing over a year ago. Or maybe it was the feeling of overall spirituality that overcomes you upon arrival.

The people I spoke with seemed upset at the closing, but understood why it has to happen. You see, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament are older and pretty much dying off one by one. The large residence and shrine is 42 acres and costs a lot of money to maintain. The sisters are also selling 2,200 acres in Virginia. Many of the nuns left the Drexel home as of this past May. The ones that remained were part of the day to day operations.

While I’m sad to see the shrine and property go, I wish the sisters a happy retirement.

Sisters of Saint Basil the Great in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania

In May of 1990 while working for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I spent some time with the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great who founded St. Basil Academy in 1931. The sisters also established Manor College in 1947. What I photographed in the times I spent at the school was the sisters at morning prayers and then followed them through their teaching day at St. Basil. I also was able to photograph some of the retired sisters as they worked on the farm, gardened, cleaned furniture and did some crafts.

The sisters were very open about their lives on the campus and pretty much allowed me to make images showing whatever I felt was necessary to tell their story . You see, their numbers had diminished from about 50 strong in the early days to 35 when I visited them.