St. Kateri Tekakwitha: Lily of the Mohawks
By Steve Taranovich
Over the many centuries, our Church has given special honors to many different persons of our faith, particularly by recognizing them and their lives with sainthood. The number of saints can be overwhelming, but one particular one, whose feast day we celebrate on July 14, has special meaning for Americans. That feast day celebrates the life of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be so honored as a saint.
She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012. She is considered the patroness of ecology and the environment, people in exile and Native Americans. St. Kateri was born in 1636 in a Mohawk village in what is now New York State. Although her father was a Mohawk, her mother was an Algonquin who had been captured by the Mohawk clan.
When she was only four years old, Saint Kateri’s parents died of smallpox and her face was disfigured with the disease. She also suffered from severe vision impairment. In growing up, she refused to marry and proclaimed strongly that she would always remain a virgin.
When she was 19 years old, she converted to Catholicism, being baptized “Catherine” after St. Catherine of Siena. The name Kateri is a Mohawk form
of “Catherine.” Her decision to be baptized was denounced by members of her tribe and, as a result, while she lived in the Mohawk village, she was severely treated by family and neighbors.
She eventually managed to leave her clan to join a Christian Indian village near Montreal, where she led a very simple life, dying when she was only 24 years old. To commemorate what she has meant to others, there are at least four shrines to celebrate her life, in New York, Michigan, and Washington, D.C.June 13, 2018