At St. Katharine Drexel Prep, one nun remains, carrying on a tradition over 100 years old
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - For more than 100 years, a group of Catholic nuns has shaped the lives of hundreds of students in New Orleans in the tradition of Saint Katharine Drexel.
Drexel was the second person born in the U.S. to be canonized as a saint and the first to be born a U.S. citizen. She is the foundress of the religious order Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (SBS).
You can hear a pin drop when teachers speak at St. Katharine Drexel Prep on Magazine Street.
The convent next door to the Uptown school used to be filled with nuns dedicated to the order’s mission of teaching African American women. At one time, 30 nuns taught there.
Now, there is only one nun left; Sister Nathalee Bryant.
“It feels like I’m a catalyst for the students to keep moving on. Although many are uncut diamonds, but then they grow,” Sr. Bryant said.
Students and faculty at Drexel Prep believe Sister Bryant is a jewel, a historian, and a wealth of knowledge.
“It’s really important that she’s here and she keeps the tradition alive so we don’t lose it,” student Ameiya Davis said.
In the late 1800s, Drexel dedicated $20 million of her family’s wealth to teaching African Americans and Native Americans, establishing missions across the United States, and founding and staffing many institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of her chosen staff included sisters of the SBS.
“It is to know that they’re somebody and they are important and what they learn and what they do in future years,” Sr. Bryant said.
Graduates as diverse as Judge Piper Griffin and musician James Booker were all guided by Drexel’s mission.
“It’s not just teaching,” Sr. Bryant said. “You have to let them know there is good in the world.”
It’s a message she conveys each day.
“She is the last living piece that we have here,” Davis said.
Sister Nathalee has been committed to her religious order since 1958 and although she may not teach at Drexel Prep for the rest of her life, she says she will remain true to her calling and active in some capacity.
“I’m thinking once I retire from here that I can do something else; write letters, phone calls, make things for people,” Sr. Bryant said. “I crochet.”
But retirement for the last nun at Drexel Prep could be years away. Sister Nathalee is 85 years old and still revels in her life’s calling.
“Every time I talk to Sister Natalie, I learn something new,” Davis said.
“She is a historian,” Principal Eric Smith said. “Whenever I need to know anything about anybody or anything I go to Sister Nathalee.”
Sister Nathalee is confident the spirit of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament will carry on beyond her.
“It may get lost a little bit, but it should carry on through the alumni because the mission statement is the same,” Sr. Bryant said.
In the meantime, Sister Nathalee will continue to mentor students in the tradition of Saint Katharine Drexel.
“Once you get them riled up, they’re proud and ready for anything and they honor each other,” Sr. Bryant said.
Due to declining membership, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament have moved on from schools nationwide. But the mission remains active at 12 institutions, including Drexel Prep.
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.
Copyright 2023 WVUE. All rights reserved.