Stained glass window of St. Kateri from St. Michael’s Church, McGill, Nevada
“The Lily of the Mohawks”
On October 21st, 2012, the first Native American Saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI.
This “Lily of the Mohawks” was born more than three hundred years ago in what is now part of upstate New York. Her mother was a Christian Algonquin Indian and her father was a Mohawk. Her mother, father, and brother died when the dreaded smallpox epidemic consumed their village. Kateri, too, was a victim of this disease when she was four years old. Even though she survived, she was heavily scarred by the pox, so much so that it left her nearly blind.
Kateri’s mother’s friend, Anastasia, also a Christian, took care of her, telling her stories of how wonderful this Christian God was. Already, this Christian God was calling her. However, her uncle, a Mohawk Chief, took her in as his daughter. He did not like hearing about this “Great Spirit.” Kateri was forbidden to see Anastasia. Her uncle wanted her to marry a young brave, but she refused knowing that only one she could ever love was this Christian God. This made her uncle very angry. One of her aunts tried to trick her into marrying this young brave.
Kateri ran off to one of the mission priests and asked him to teach her more about this wonderful God who loved her so much. He taught about the Holy Trinity and Our Blessed Mother. In her heart, Kateri now knew that she would have a mother who would take care of her.
Kateri was baptised on Easter Sunday, 1674. It was then she received the name “Kateri.” Her family and the people in her village became crueler than ever before. She wasn’t allowed to eat if she didn’t work in the fields on Sunday. The children made fun of her and threw rocks at her.
The friendly priest advised her to leave her people. He sent her to Canada where she would be able to live in peace with other Christians. When Kateri’s uncle came home and found her gone, he was very angry and tried to follow her. However, God protected her and she finally arrived in Canada just before Christmas. She showed the note to the priest that she carried. The other priest called her a treasure and took her in. Kateri received her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day.
Even though Kateri was happy there, her health was not good. She always had a bad headache and could hardly eat any food. She felt she would be seeing the Great Spirit soon.
Kateri’s last words were, “Jesus, I love you.” It was very evident, according to the witnesses, that Kateri’s body was touched by God. Her face, which had been scarred by smallpox, was now beautiful. The scars had disappeared.
Another miracle occurred in 2006 when a 5-year old boy was suffering from a flesh-eating infection caused by a cut on his lip. At the suggestion from a priest, they started praying to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to intercede for the boy to return to good health. Unknown to them, a religious nun, bearing the name of Sr. Kateri, placed a relic of the future saint on the boy’s leg. That day, the doctors, after taking more tests of the boy, deemed that the infection was totally gone. The 2006 cure from the infection was deemed medically inexplicable by the Vatican which propelled the 17th Century Native American on to sainthood.
There are many parishes that bear this new saint’s name. Many parishioners and Native American Groups attended this milestone in our Church’s history. For them it was an honor to attend the canonization. One participant said, “She is a saint for the Church, a saint for all of us-her story can bring the greater community together, even those outside the Catholic church”.
Sandy Di Cianno rsm