Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will be raised to sainthood by Pope Benedict VXI on October 21. She is affectionately known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” the first Native American to be canonized a saint. While this is a great moment for the Church across North America, it is particularly significant for Native American Catholics who number approximately 600,000 from 300 tribes in the United States and Canada.
Kateri’s path to sainthood has gone through a number of steps and a lengthy process. She died in 1680. Over the next two and a half centuries devotion to her has steadily increased and many miracles have been attributed to her intercession. Her cause for canonization was opened in 1932; she was declared venerable by Pope Pius XII in 1943; beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 22, 1980; approved for canonization by Pope Benedict XVI in December, 2011; and 332 years after her death, she will be formally canonized a saint on October 21, 2012.
Kateri was born in 1656 in Auriesville (Osserneon), New York, on the south bank of the Mohawk River. Her mother was a Christian Algonquin. She was orphaned at the age of four when her mother, father, and baby brother all died in a smallpox epidemic. Kateri also contracted smallpox, survived, but was severely weakened, partially blinded, and face disfigured.
Kateri was then raised by her uncle who hosted three Jesuit missionaries. They instructed her in the faith and she was baptized on Easter, 1676, at the age of 20. The Mohawks bitterly opposed her conversion. They tried to force her to marry, but she refused. She would not work on Sunday and was branded as lazy. She prayed the rosary and was taunted as crazy. She was mocked mercilessly and ostracized by family and neighbors. When her life was threatened, she fled to Caughnawaga, a small town near Montreal, Canada.
Kateri lived in a cabin where she could practice her faith freely. She prayed long hours, attended daily Mass, taught children their prayers, visited the sick and elderly, made crosses that she placed throughout the woods, and made a perpetual vow of virginity in1679 at the age of 23. She suffered recurrent headaches, fevers, stomach aches, and weight loss, much due to her severe self-inflicted penitential practices. She died on April 17, 1680.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the patron saint of Native Americans, the environment, those who are persecuted for their faith, orphans, and World Youth Day. Her feast day is July 14.