The religious community of Saint Katharine Drexel will auction items from the motherhouse of Bensalem for the sale of the property
The rooms where the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament forged a ministry dedicated to underserved communities are now the setting for an auction which will offer pieces of the history of the nuns for sale.
Sculptures from Haiti, Native American sand paintings, dolls, and record albums of African American history fill the tables in the living rooms where the sisters once met. Religious art leans against the walls of their formal dining room. There is a grand piano in a room where an auctioneer will likely ask, “What are my bids?” “
The auction scheduled for Friday is another step in the religious community’s farewell to the place that was once a Catholic shrine housing the body of St. Katharine Drexel, the Philadelphia heiress who founded the community. The nuns have been selling the 44-acre estate which has been their head office since 1892.
Nearly 200 items will be sold in an in-person and online auction that begins at 11 a.m. at the property at 1663 Bristol Pike. A preview will begin at 9 a.m. The auction, which is administered by Stephenson’s Auctioneers & Appraisers of Southampton, is expected to continue until approximately 2 p.m.
The sale will feature ancient bookcases, stained glass windows, rugs, wardrobes, crockery, plinths, musical instruments and other items that have become part of the life of the religious community since the founding of the order by Sainte-Catherine in 1891.
>> READ MORE: The estate of St. Katharine Drexel Shrine under contract with developer Aquinas with a senior housing plan
“We have mixed emotions,” said Sister Donna Breslin, president of the order. “It’s difficult. Most of the articles have a lot of history for us, but we also realize that this is a time of transition.”
The religious order has a sale agreement with Bucks County-based Aquinas Realty Partners that plans to build a 605-unit residential community that includes luxury townhouses and carriage houses and a senior citizen’s residence. The nuns, who have suffered a sharp drop in membership, decided to sell the property several years ago because they were unable to maintain it.
>> READ MORE: The remains of Saint Catherine Drexel will be moved to the cathedral this summer
The 10 buildings on the plot include a chapel, the old sanctuary, classrooms for religious training, two convents and a barn where the sisters kept animals.
Friday’s auction is the third to feature items belonging to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, but the first to take place on community property. The order had previously donated many liturgical objects to other religious communities.
In 2017, Freeman’s auction house in Center City sold a collection of Native American pottery, beads, weaves, and basketry largely by Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo artisans. Last year, Material Culture in East Falls sold wall hangings, sculptures, and pottery. Each auction sold approximately 50 items.
Freeman’s auction items sold for a total hammer price of $ 68,800, including $ 4,000 for a silver and leather Navajo belt, according to Freeman’s website. The Material Culture items sold for $ 8,200, according to Invaluable.com. Totals do not include the premium for buying auction houses.
Proceeds from sales will be used to continue ministry to the community, fund charitable initiatives, and care for aging nuns in the order. The community has about 80 sisters, ranging in age from their early fifties to almost 100 years old. Most live in Paul’s Run, a continuing care community in northeast Philadelphia.
Saint Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament after giving away a fortune of $ 7 million to dedicate her life to the Catholic faith and serve minority communities. She entered a Pittsburgh convent in 1889 and founded the order two years later, then established her seat in Bucks County.
On the walls of a first-floor hallway are three framed paintings listing the nuns who lived and died in the community, starting with Sister Mary Patrick Flaherty, who died in 1891, and ending with Sister Rita Gillen, who died in April.
The name of St. Katharine is prominent in the first painting. She died in 1955 and her remains were buried at Bucks County Headquarters, which has become a National Shrine, attracting pilgrims from all over the world. Saint Catherine was canonized in 2000.
>> READ MORE: The tomb of Saint Katharine Drexel unveiled at the cathedral
Last year his body was transferred to the SS Cathedral Basilica. Peter and Paul in Center City, which was later declared a sanctuary for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament plan to retain their headquarters in the region once the sale of the property is finalized. They remain optimistic about what to expect.
“We are now heading into the future,” Breslin said. “We still have a lot of hope and confidence that our congregation will continue. “