Kateri Tekakwitha

July 14, 2018
First Native American Saint

On Sunday, October 21, 2012 the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the first Native American Saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. St. Kateri was born in 1656 near Auriesville, New York, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and a Christian mother.   At the age of four, smallpox attacked Tekakwitha’s village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, and leaving Tekakwitha an orphan. She was adopted by her two aunts and an uncle, and although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind, Tekakwitha survived. The brightness of the sun blinded her and she would feel her way around as she walked.

When Tekakwitha was eighteen, Father de Lamberville, 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.  Kateri vaguely remembered her mother’s whispered 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.

Kateri’s family did not accept her choice to embrace Christ.  After her baptism, Kateri 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.  Nevertheless, Kateri remained steadfast in her faith, and lived a life dedicated to prayer, penitential practices, and care for the sick and aged. Every morning, even in coldest winter, she would be waiting at 4:00am when the chapel was opened, and she remained there until after the last Mass. She was devoted to the Eucharist and to Jesus Crucified.  Her motto became “Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?”

Tekakwitha’s baptismal name is Catherine, which in the Iroquois languages is Kateri.  Her second Iroquois name can be translated as “one who walks groping for her way” (because of her faulty eyesight).

Kateri died on April 17, 1680 at the age of twenty-four. She is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Devotion to Kateri is responsible for establishing Native American ministries in Catholic Churches all over the United States and Canada. Kateri was declared Venerable in 1943 and was beatified in 1980 by Blessed Pope John Paul II.  Hundreds of thousands have visited shrines to Kateri erected at both St. Francis Xavier and Caughnawaga and at her birth place at Auriesville, New York. Pilgrimages at these sites continue today.

St. Kateri’s Feast Day is July 14. She is the patroness of the Native Americans and the environment.