Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Painted by Fr. Chauchetière in 1696.

On October 21 KATERI TEKAKWITHA, the "Lily of the Mohawks", becomes the first Native American woman to become a Saint. She was born in 1656 at Ossernenon, which today is near Auriesville, New York, USA. Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was a Catholic Algonquin. Her baptismal name is Catherine, which in the Iroquois languages is Kateri. Her name can be translated as, "One who places things in order."

When she was four smallpox attacked the village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, leaving St. Kateri an orphan.  Although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind, she survived. Since the brightness of the sun blinded her, she would feel her way around as she walked.

She was adopted by her two aunts and her uncle, also a chief.  After the smallpox outbreak subsided, the saint and her people abandoned their village and built a new settlement, called Caughnawaga, some five miles away on the north bank of the Mohawk River, which today is in Fonda, New York.

Jan Oliver

St. Kateri grew into a young woman with a sweet, shy personality.  She helped her aunts work in the fields where they tended to the corn, beans, and squash, and gathered roots in the forest needed to prepare medicines and dyes. Despite her poor vision, she also became very skilled at bead work. 

Although the saint was not baptized as an infant, she had fond memories of her prayerful mother and of the stories of  the Catholic faith that her mother shared with her in childhood. These remained indelibly impressed upon her soul and shaped her calling. She often went to the woods alone to speak to God and listen to Him in her heart and in the voice of nature.

Deacon Lawrence Klimecki
When she was eighteen, a Jesuit missionary came to Caughnawaga and established a chapel. Her uncle disliked the "Blackrobe" and his strange new religion, but tolerated the missionary's presence. St. Kateri remembered her mother's prayers, and was fascinated by the new stories she heard about Jesus Christ. She wanted to learn more about Him and to become a Christian. 

Nicholas Otero
Father de Lamberville persuaded her uncle to allow St. Kateri to attend religious instructions.  The following Easter, at the age of  twenty, she was baptized. Her  family did not accept her choice to embrace Christ, so after her baptism, she became the village outcast. Her family refused her food on Sundays because she wouldn't work. Children would taunt her and throw stones.  She was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion.

Because of increasing hostility from her people and because she wanted to devote her life to God, in July of 1677, St. Kateri left her village and fled more than 200 miles to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Sault Saint-Louis, near Montreal. Here she received her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1677.

Dorothy M. Speiser

Although not formally educated and unable to read and write, St. Kateri led a life of prayer and penance. She taught the young and helped those in the village who were poor or sick. She spoke words of kindness to everyone she encountered. Her favorite devotion was to fashion crosses out of sticks and place them throughout the woods. These crosses served as stations that reminded her to spend a moment in prayer.

St. Kateri's motto became, "Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?"  She spent much of her time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling in the cold chapel for hours. She loved the Rosary and carried it around her neck always.  

Dorothy M. Speiser

On March 25, 1679, St. Kateri made a vow of perpetual virginity, devoting herself to Christ for the rest of her life.  She hoped to start a convent for Native American sisters in Sault St. Louis but her spiritual director, Father Pierre Cholonec discouraged her. Her health, never good, was deteriorating rapidly due in part to the penances she inflicted on herself.  Father Cholonec encouraged St. Kateri to take better care of herself but she laughed and continued with her "acts of love."    

Br. Robert Lentz, OFM
The poor health which plagued her throughout her life led to her death in 1680 at the age of 24.  Her last words were, "Jesus, I love You."  Like the flower she was named for, the lily, her life was short and beautiful.  Moments after dying, her scarred and disfigured face miraculously cleared and was made beautiful by God. This miracle was witnessed by two Jesuits and all the others able to fit into the room.

Her feast is celebrated on July 14th in the United States. She is a patroness of ecology, nature, and the environment. 

1943- by the Polish artist Jan Henryk de Rosen. Pere Jacques Marquette, SJ; 
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton;  St.  Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Martin de Porres and Bl. Juniper Serra.

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