St. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the first Native American canonized by the church. Her life was tragically short and filled with suffering, but the Lily of the Mohawks, as she is sometimes called, brought devotion that astounded those around her.

Lifetime: 1656-1680
Region: New York, USA; Kahnawake (near Montreal), Canada
Patronages: The environment; Native Americans; People in exile
Iconograpy: Lily; Turtle; Wooden cross
Feast Day: July 14

When Kateri was only 4, both her parents and her brother were killed by smallpox. Kateri herself also suffered from the disease, but survived, though her face bore permanent scars from it and her vision was damaged. She was sent to live with her aunt and uncle in another Mohawk village. 

Kateri was ostracized in her new village for her scars, and though her new family took care of her and helped her learn the skills expected of women in their village, Kateri had few friends and spent much of her time alone.

At 10, Kateri's new village was attacked by French colonists and had to flee into the woods. The Mowhawks agreed to a treaty with the French that allowed them to rebuild their village which the French had destroyed, but the French required that Jesuit missionaries be allowed to visit the village as part of this agreement. 

The chief of Kateri's village, who was also Kateri's uncle and adopted father, forbade Kateri from talking to the missionaries, however. He had already lost one of his daughters when she converted to Christianity and left the village to join a missionary settlement, and didn't want to lose his brother-in-law's only surviving child the same way.

However, when Kateri was 13, the village was attacked by warriors from another tribe. During the three-day-long battle, Kateri and many of the other girls in the village, alongside one of the visiting priests, helped to tend to the wounded, bury the dead, and feed the warriors defending the village. 

13 was also the age where many Mowhawk girls took on suitors and began to consider marriage, but Kateri refused any of the suitors that her adoptive parents brought to her. She was given more chores as punishment, but never relented, not having any interest in  marriage.

Finally at 18, Kateri had injured her foot, which afforded her some time with one of the missionary priests away from most of the rest of her village. She confessed to him that she wanted to become Christian, and he began instructing her in the faith.

Kateri's conversion to Christiany caused conflicts with her family and other residents of her village, but on Easter Sunday of her 19th year, she was baptized and took the name Kateri after Catherine of Siena. 

She stayed in her village for six more months after her conversion, but after many of her kinsfolk accused her of sorcery and continued to oppose her faith, she chose to leave to join a mission where many other Native American converts lived.

At the mission town, Kateri met other young Native American women who had converted to the Catholic faith. They learned about religious sisters together, and after taking vows of chastity, asked to be allowed to start their own convent, but were encouraged instead to lead an ordinary life.

Kateri prayed and fasted regularly for the conversion of her people. She was known for going out into the woods to pray, lashing together small crosses out of sticks and placing them on trees as she did.

Unfortunately, at the age of only 24, Kateri grew sick and died. Her last words were "Jesus, Mary, I love you." Some who saw her die said at the moment of her death, the scars that had marred her face healed and she looked beautiful.

Three people reported seeing Kateri after her death, holding one of her wooden crosses that glowed like the sun. She told these friends of hers that she was on her way to heaven. 

Within only several years after her death, pilgrims began visiting Kateri's grave site to honor her and ask for her intercession. However it wasn't until 2012 that she was canonized as the first Native American saint officially recognized by the church.

Prayer to the Lily of the Mohawk 

Blessed Kateri, you are revered as the mystic of the American wilderness. Though orphaned at the age of four, and left with a scarred face and damaged eyesight from illness, you were esteemed among the Mohawk tribe. When you asked to be baptized a Christian you subjected yourself to abuse by your people and were forced to run away. You endured many trials but still flowered in prayer and holiness, dedicating yourself totally to Christ. I ask you to be my spiritual guide along my journey through life. Through you intercession, I pray that I may always be loyal to my faith in all things. Amen.

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