Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
July 12, 1998
Brother John Raymond
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be declared Blessed. I visited a shrine dedicated to her in Fonda, New York. I was graced to be there on her feastday, July 14. There is a chapel there with a relic of her. In her honor the native Americans had a get together. That didn't end my Native-American experience. I was in Canada one time at the North American Martyrs' Shrine and got to experience the long hut (has the shape of a Quonset hut) that Kateri would have lived in. It was about as long as a semi-truck trailer with openings in the ceiling for the smoke from a fire to go out. Even so, the long hut would be filled with smoke. Many families would live in one of these. So who was Kateri?
She was born in 1656 and named Tekakwitha, which means "She who fixes things." Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother an Algonquin Christian. Four years later an epidemic of smallpox wiped out most of her village, including her parents. Kateri managed to recover, although she suffered from disfigurement and severely damaged eyesight because of it.
Her aunts and an uncle, who had become chief of the Turtle clan, adopted her. In 1667 Jesuit missionaries spent three days in the lodge of Tekakwitha's uncle. From them she received her first knowledge of Christianity. The Turtle clan moved to the north bank of the Mohawk River, above what is now the town of Fonda.
When Kateri was eighteen, a Jesuit priest arrived to take charge of a mission, which included the Turtle clan. It was from him that she finally received baptism, in spite of strong opposition from the tribe. She then became subject to increased contempt and derision from the people of her village for her conversion, as well as her refusal to work on Sundays or to marry. Eventually, for her own protection, she fled with some Christian Indians to Caughnawaga, also known as the St. Francis Xavier Canadian mission, on the St. Lawrence River.
Here Kateri made her First Holy Communion, on Christmas Day, 1677. She then began doing heroic daily penance. She offered it for all the tribal elders and the sick among them. On March 25, 1979, a Jesuit priest allowed Kateri to pronounce a private vow of virginity and to consecrate herself to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Kateri, along with another woman, wanted to start a small convent at the mission, but it never materialized.
She lived a life dedicated to prayer, penitential practices, and care for the sick and elderly. Every morning, even in bitterest winter, she stood before the chapel door until it opened at four and remained there until after the last Mass. She was devoted to the Eucharist and to Jesus Crucified. She died on April 7, 1680 at the age of twenty-four. Just after her death, all of the scars from her smallpox disappeared.
Kateri is known as the "Lily of the Mohawks". Devotion to her is responsible for establishing Native American ministries in Catholic churches all over the United States and Canada. Pope Pius XII declared Kateri Tekakwitha Venerable on January 3, 1943. Pope John Paul II beatified her on June 22, 1980.
Some families today are a mix of Catholics and non-Catholics and practicing and non-practicing Catholics. At times there can even be hostility shown to those of the family who practice the Faith. Certainly Blessed Kateri is worth turning to for her intercession in these difficult situations. She is also a great inspiration to us for the practice of mortification and penance. Her life as an Indian was rough enough but on top of this she added penance! And she offered these sacrifices for others. Perhaps we can imitate her to some degree and offer sacrifices for other members of our family.