Uncovering a Legacy

Our May reflection is courtesy Bonnie Shaw.

Bonnie Shaw is wife to Chris, mother of four perpetually hungry offspring, and in continual anticipation of summer and hot weather. An educator by degree and lifelong learner by habit, she consumes stacks of books, inhabiting both her imagination and contemplation as she seeks connection with truth, ideas, and the laughter of friends traveling the same road. In relentless pursuit of more perfectly trusting in the Lord’s divine mercy, she is so very thankful for His grace and the peace and shelter of His presence as well as the example of others who love Him.

Sitting on the cork floor of the parish hall during EDGE youth group one Wednesday in March, Scott Froyen’s words during his saint presentation captured my attention. He was speaking of St. Katherine Drexel, a wealthy American heiress who dedicated herself to work among American Indians and African Americans in the southwest. She established the congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who then opened a boarding school, St. Catherine’s Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1887. She went on to establish many more nationwide.

Exuberantly challenging the youth and adults present to consider the impact St. Katherine Drexel had by her obedience and generosity, he enthused, “I made a little spreadsheet. This woman opened 50 schools in 16 states. She attracted women to serve in her order alongside her. She directly impacted 1 million lives, all in an age of no social media. How did she connect with these followers? How did they communicate?”

I was caught up in Scott’s wonder, his imagining a time long ago and the children served by one woman’s leadership and the generosity of the order she founded. And yet, I was also incredulously transfixed by his words.

Indeed, St. Katherine Drexel had, no doubt, directly impacted 1 million lives at the turn of the 19th century, an amazing feat. Indirectly, my own life had been impacted by this saint as well, though I didn’t know to credit her until that very moment.

A mere two hours earlier, my 12 year old son Carter and I had been poring over copies of census records from the early 1900s, taking turns with the magnifying glass in hand! I was reading the names of my great-grandmothers, meticulously scripted on the 1900 Census Form of the Indian Population recorded from the boarding school in Santa Fe where they resided as 11 year old young girls: St. Catherine Indian School. In fact, I had even dialed a number for the school’s archives in Santa Fe!

These innocent Pueblo maidens were shaped by the Catholic education they received, both by their learning as well as the religious training. At that time, the newly formed State of New Mexico, by state law, was obligated to educate whites and hispanics, but made no provision to educate Indians. Their experiences would shape their families for generations to come. For after their time at this school, their lives would continue. Both of these girls were my own mother’s grandmothers, raising her parents in the truth and traditions of the Catholic faith. Their lives formed and shaped my mother’s, who has greatly impacted mine, as well as my siblings’ and our children’s. We have been given a living legacy of joy, service, mercy, redemption, generosity, faithfulness, prayer, truth, and love. Now it is our turn to pass on what the Lord has imparted: His blessings and mercy, forgiveness and faithfulness down through the ages.

Consider the San Ildefonso Pueblo people, my tribe, who to this day share a Catholic outlook, as evidenced by both name and celebrations. A cursory glance at the modern website gives glimpses of San Ildefonso’s Feast Day celebrated by mass and Native Dancing.

I give credit to the Lord, for perpetuating His legacy of love and truth through His people. Many faithful servants and families have borne witness, starting this story with the heart response of St. Katherine Drexel to do unto others and share her vision among her Order that would serve, in unity of purpose.

You needn’t have access to historical census records or Indian rolls to look back and uncover the spiritual heritage within your own family or life. A few moments of contemplation can illuminate the faces of those held in your heart that have imparted truth and love, enabling growth in your faith. A deeper look or a prayer for direction will reveal your innate desire to leave a spiritual legacy as you serve and encourage others – be they family members, friends, or those at your parish or whom your path crosses.

We desire to plant a seed. The Lord calls us to this. We can plant. He will water, and the abundant harvest will be His. I have only to consider the legacy of one of His faithful servants, St. Katherine Drexel, to see how one act of love sparks another. In this simple way, Our Lord’s love and truth can continue to pass down, through each succeeding generation; and His legacy of love, grace, and provision will truly be uncovered and magnified!

“Tell it to your children, and your children to their children, and their children to the next generation.”  Joel 1:3

Copyright 2018 Bonnie Shaw