Noblesse Oblige – Part 2

May 9, 2024

By Anthony Charette

Part I

Spiritual Tug-of-War

Bishop Martin Marty O.S.B. of Saint Cloud, Minnesota, Dakota Territory. He encouraged St. Katharine’s generosity toward the Indian Missions.

Katharine’s correspondence in this period clearly indicates a frustrated soul on fire with love of God and trying to fly over all the obstacles standing in the way of her vocation. Bishop O’Connor, still her spiritual advisor, initially advised caution and patience. Eventually, he revealed his conclusions: She could best serve God by living in the world and directing her activities with the intelligence and competence she had already exhibited. He felt that in a convent she would be directed by others to the detriment of her apostolate.

Dissatisfied with this response, Katharine replied that she wanted to sacrifice her feelings, her inclinations, her appetites, against which all nature rebels. But, by conquering the flesh, the soul lives. She went on to explain that the attainment of perfection should be our chief employment in life. But the Bishop would not relent. He feared that she, coming from such an elegant lifestyle, might lack the strength to endure the sacrifices that life in a religious Order called for.

  In the midst of this epistolary tug-of-war, Katharine and her two sisters traveled to Europe. While they were in Rome, Pope Leo XIII granted Katharine a private audience. She explained to the Pontiff that she desired to enter a contemplative religious congregation, but that she also was aiding Bishop O’Connor and numerous missionaries in alleviating the sad condition of the North American Indians. She feared that if she entered a contemplative Order she would be abandoning those God wanted her to help. What should she do?

Pope Leo listened attentively. He no doubt knew she was a member of a wealthy banking family and could obviously see that she was offering herself to God through a life of prayer. He thought for a long minute and then replied, “But why not be a missionary yourself, my child?” It was not the answer she was looking for. Enigmatic in some respects, the Pope’s answer nevertheless did point to her future course.

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