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PHILADELPHIA HEIRESS-TURNED-NUN SET FOR SAINTHOOD

Pope John Paul II cleared the last hurdle Thursday for making Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress turned Catholic nun, only the second native-born American in the Catholic Church's history to be named a saint.

Officially signing a number of papal decrees, the pope confirmed a second miracle by Drexel, a Philadelphia banking heiress who founded an order of nuns, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

The pope already had attributed a miracle to Drexel in 1988. Thursday's decree means she will be canonized, or recognized as a saint, sometime this year.

Both miracles involved Philadelphia children cured of deafness after their families prayed to Drexel.

Drexel, who died in 1955 at age 96, is seen by the church as a human rights pioneer on behalf of American Indians and African-Americans.

Her banking family left its name on Drexel University in Philadelphia and the defunct Wall Street firm Drexel Burnham Lambert.

Drexel was in her early 20s when her parents died. She inherited $20 million, rejected offers of marriage and entered religious life at 30, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891. Based outside Philadelphia in Bensalem, Pa., it is a teaching order with 240 nuns in the United States and Haiti.

She also helped to set up Xavier University in New Orleans to offer ethnic minorities development through Catholic education.

Church officials said she could be canonized as early as October.

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