July 14 - Feast of Kateri Tekakwitha - First Native American Saint
1656 - 1680
In April 1656, a baby was born in an Iroquois village situated along the banks of the Mohawk River in upstate New York. Her mother was a Christian and wanted her to be baptized, but her father was chief of a tribe who opposed the French Jesuit priests. "Little Sunshine" was a ray of joy to family and friends, but joy and love in the family didn't last long. When she was four years old, smallpox swept through the village. Her father, mother, and baby brother died, leaving Sunshine pock-marked and almost blind. Her uncle adopted her and she was renamed Tekakwitha ("she who pushes with her hands") due to her having to feel her way around as a blind person.
As her childhood passed, her eyesight improved. She became very skilled in Indian embroidery, beading, and wood carving. She worked hard, but in her free time she liked to walk in the woods or stroll along the river, where she could be alone and think about God. As her new family was not Christian, she was not to pray or talk with the missionaries who worked among the Indians. When she was eighteen, she announced that she wanted to become a Christian. Her family was furious.
She attended lessons at the mission and on Easter Sunday, 1676, she was baptized with the name Kateri (Katherine). After this she was treated cruelly by her family, but she never showed her misery. Eventually, two kind Christian Indians helped her escape across the St. Lawrence River to a Christian community in Canada, where she received her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1677. There she carried water, cooked, sewed, and attended every Mass. She spent all her free time in the love and service of the Lord.
On a trip to Montreal to sell Native American handicrafts, Kateri met a religious order of nuns and realized her calling. On March 25, The Feast of the Annunciation, Kateri privately pronounced her vows. From then on, she devoted her life completely to God.
Her private penances and hard work left her often ill. She suffered greatly during the winter of 1680 and on April 17, 1680, at the age of 24, Kateri died. Almost immediately her face turned beautiful and shining. All the pockmarks from her disease disappeared. A smile appeared on her lips. Everyone was astonished. The wonderful transformation remained until burial the next day on Holy Thursday.
The Lily of the Mohawk was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. Her feast day is celebrated on July 14.
Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be declared a Saint. She is the patroness of the environment and ecology, as is St. Francis of Assisi. On October 21, 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. The miracle attributed to Kateri's canonization is the story of Jake Finkbonner. Jake was so close to death after flesh-eating bacteria infected him through a cut on his lip that his parents had last rites performed and were discussing donating the 5-year-old's tiny organs. His cure in 2006 from the infection was deemed medically inexplicable by the Vatican, and became the "miracle" needed to propel a 17th century Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, on to sainthood. Jake is fully convinced, as is the Catholic Church, that the prayers his family and community offered to God through Kateri's intercession, including the placement of a Kateri relic on Jake's leg, were responsible for his survival. Jake, now 13 and an avid basketball player and cross-country runner, was present at the canonization; along with hundreds of members of his own Lummi tribe from northwest Washington State and indigenous communities across the U.S. and Canada.
|Statue at Cathedral Basilica ~ Santa Fe, NM|