SAINT KATERI TEKAKWITHA (1656-1680), virgin
Patroness of exiles, environmentalists and people ridiculed for their piety
Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be both beatified and canonized. Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks”, Kateri lived a life of holiness and virtue, despite obstacles and opposition within her tribe.
Tekakwitha (her Indian name) was born in 1656, to a Christian Algonquin woman and a pagan Mohawk chief, in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon (present day Auriesville) on the banks of the Mohawk River, in what is now the State of New York.
When she was about four years old, a smallpox epidemic attacked her tribe and both her parents and younger brother died. She was left with permanent scars on her face and impaired eyesight. Her uncle, who had now become chief of the tribe, adopted her, and her aunts began planning her marriage while she was still very young.
When three Jesuit priests were visiting the tribe in 1667 and staying in the tent of her uncle, they spoke to her of Christ, and, though she did not ask to be baptized, she believed in Jesus with an incredible intensity. She also realized that she was called into an intimate union with God as a consecrated virgin.
Tekakwitha had to struggle to maintain her faith amidst the opposition of her tribe who ridiculed her for it, and which also ostracized her for refusing the marriage that had been planned for her. When she was eighteen years of age, Father Jacques de Lamberville returned to the Mohawk village, and she asked to be baptized, and took the name Kateri (Catherine).
The life of the Mohawk village had become violent and debauchery (sexual depravity) was commonplace. Realizing that this was proving too dangerous to her life and her call to perpetual virginity, Kateri escaped, with the help of some Christian Indians, to the town of Caughnawaga (now called Kahnawake) in southern Quebec along the Saint Lawrence River in Canada, where she grew in holiness and devotion to the Mother of God and the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Kateri lived out the last years of her short life in Caughnawaga, practicing austere penance and constant prayer, impressing not only her own people, but also the French residents and Jesuit missionaries. She was said to have reached the highest levels of mystical union with God, and many miracles were attributed to her while she was still alive.
She died on April 17, 1680 at the young age of twenty-four. Witnesses said that her emaciated face changed color and became like that of a healthy child. The lines of suffering, even the scarring caused by smallpox, all disappeared and the touch of a smile came upon her lips, and that her face shone with a radiant beauty.
Devotion to Kateri began immediately throughout the United States and Canada after her death, and her body, enshrined in Caughnawaga, is visited by many pilgrims each year.
Kateri was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II on June 22, 1980, and canonized a saint by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012.
We commemorate her feastday on July 14.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Kateri Tekakwitha)
“Lord God, You called the virgin, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, to shine among the Native American people as an example of innocence of life. Through her intercession, may all peoples of every tribe, tongue and nation, having been gathered into Your Church, proclaim Your greatness in one song of praise.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”