|Native Americans celebrate their new saint|
Kateri Tekakwitha was a young Mohawk woman who lived in the 17th century. The story of her conversion to Christianity, her courage in the face of suffering and her extraordinary holiness is an inspiration to all Christians.
Kateri was born in 1656 of an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk Chief in the Mohawk fortified village of Canaouaga or Ossernenon (modern day Auriesville) in upstate New York. When she was only 4 years old her parents and brother died of smallpox. Kateri survived the disease, but it left her face badly scarred and her eyesight impaired. Because of her poor vision, Kateri was named "Tekakwitha", which means "she who bumps into things". Kateri was taken in by her uncle who was bitterly opposed to Christianity. Her mother was Christian and had given Tekakwitha a Rosary.
When she was 8 years old, Kateri's foster family, in accordance with Iroquois custom, paired her with a young boy who they expected she would marry. However, Kateri wanted to dedicate her life to God. Her uncle distrusted the settlers because of the way they treated the Indians and who were responsible for introducing smallpox and other deadly diseases into the Indian community.
When Kateri was ten, in 1666, a war party composed of French soldiers and hostile Indians from Canada destroyed her village. After their defeat, the Mohawks were forced into a peace treaty that required them to accept Jesuit missionaries in their villages.
They moved north and rebuilt their village at what they called Caughnawaga near present-day Fonda, New York. In 1667, when Kateri was 11 years old, she met the Jesuits Jacques Fremin, Jacques Bruyas, and Jean Pierron, who had come to the village. Her uncle was against any contact with them because he did not want her to convert to Christianity. One of his older daughters had already left Caughnawaga to go to Kahnawake, the Catholic mission village near Montreal.
In the spring of 1675 at age eighteen, while resting in bed after sustaining a foot injury, Kateri met the Jesuit Father Jacques de Lamberville and started studying the catechism with him. Judging her ready for true conversion, Lamberville baptized Tekakwitha at the age of 20, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676. Her uncle gave his consent for her to become a Christian provided that she did not try to leave the Indian village.
For joining the Catholic Church, Kateri was ridiculed and scorned by villagers. She was subjected to unfair accusations and her life was threatened. Nearly two years after her baptism, she escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, a settlement of Christian Indians in Canada. The village in Canada was also named Caughnawaga (Kahnawake). Here she was known for her gentleness, kindness, and good humour. On Christmas Day 1677 Kateri made her first holy communion and on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1679 made a vow of perpetual virginity. She also offered herself to the Blessed Mother Mary to accept her as a daughter.
During her time in Canada, Kateri taught prayers to children and worked with the elderly and sick. She would often go to Mass both at dawn and sunset. She was known for her great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Cross of Christ.
During the last years of her life, Kateri endured great suffering from a serious illness. She died on April 17th, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday, and was buried in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada.
Kateri's final words were: "Jesus — Mary — I love you"
Eyewitnesses reported that within a few minutes of her death, the scars from smallpox completely vanished and her face shone with a radiant beauty.
Before her death, Kateri promised her friends that she would continue to love and pray for them in heaven. Both Native Americans and settlers immediately began praying for her heavenly intercession. Several people, including a priest who attended Kateri during her last illness, reported that Kateri had appeared to them and many healing miracles were attributed to her.
One recorded miracle was experienced by Joseph Kellogg, a Protestant child was captured by Natives in a raid, but eventually brought back to his home. Twelve months after he was kidnapped he caught smallpox and failed to be cured by the ordinary means used by the Jesuits. The Jesuits possessed relics from Tekakwitha’s grave, but did not want to use them on a non-Catholic. One Jesuit told him that if he would confess and truly embody a Roman Catholic, help would come to him and so Joseph did as asked. The Jesuit gave him rotten wood from Catherine’s coffin, which is said to have made him heal. Other alleged miracles attributed to Tekakwitha: Father Rémy recovered his hearing and a nun in Montreal was cured by using items formerly belonging to Kateri.
On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI approved the second miracle needed for Blessed Kateri's canonization. The authorized miracle dates from 2006, when a young boy in Washington state survived a severe flesh-eating bacterium. Doctors had been unable to stop the progress of the disease by surgery and advised his parents he was likely to die. The boy received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick from a Catholic priest. As the boy is half Lummi Indian, the parents said they prayed through Tekakwitha for divine intercession, as did their family and friends, and an extended network contacted through their son's classmates. A Catholic nun, Sister Kateri Mitchell visited the boy's bedside and placed a relic of Tekakwitha, a bone fragment, against his body and prayed together with his parents. The next day, the infection stopped its progression.