About St. Kateri Tekakwitha
St. Kateri Tekakwitha is often praised as the first Native American saint, but what is more remarkable is just how quickly she achieved sanctity. Normally sainthood is the process of twenty, thirty even forty years and yet, within four years of her baptism, St. Kateri had become a saint. What was the secret to sanctity that had St. Kateri found?
St. Kateri was born to a Christian mother of the Algonquin tribe and to a non-Christian father of the Mohawks. In 1660, when she was four, she tragically lost both of her parents and her little brother in a small pox epidemic. Although she survived smallpox herself, her eyesight was forever impaired and her face was scarred. She would later thank God for this, regarding it as a special grace that, receiving little attention, she was left to devote herself more freely to God.
Although St. Kateri’s mother had died before Kateri could be baptized, her good mother died ardently praying that God would provide for her child. St. Kateri was then raised by an uncle, the chief of the Turtle Clan, who was very wary of Christians and often opposed to them. However, there was some friendly contact with missionaries and at age 18 she started receiving instructions in the faith. Finally, her uncle reluctantly consented to her conversion and on Easter Sunday in 1676, she was baptized, taking the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena.
Although her uncle allowed her to convert, St. Kateri still had to face the hostility of her own tribe and she suffered greatly from them. They simply could not understand why she refused to work on Sundays, but since she would not work on Sundays, she would not eat on Sundays. They would regularly hide all the food and leave her with nothing. Some would throw stones at her and insult her she would walk to the chapel. On one occasion, her uncle even sent a warrior to frighten her, as he pretended to attack her with a hatchet.
Eventually, St. Kateri began to fear for her life and fled to the mission of St. Francis Xavier, two hundred miles north, in Canada. Her village priest instructed her to deliver a letter for him, and when the missionaries at St. Francis Xavier opened it, the letter read, “I am sending you a treasure, guard it well!”
At the mission in Canada, her fellow Christians were devout, but St. Kateri soon distinguished herself by her great fervor, particularly in her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Her great love for the Blessed Sacrament was largely responsible for her swift rise to sanctity. St. Kateri attended two masses every day and she was always the first one at the chapel. Arriving at four in the morning, she would stand outside and pray until the chapel opened, even during the winter. She would visit the Blessed Sacrament several times per day and would always be the last one to leave at night.
The fruit of her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament led St. Kateri to have a great purity of heart. “Her chastity was the most beautiful flower in her crown,” said her first biographer, Fr. Claude Chauchetière (source #5). She preserved such extraordinary purity through constant mortification of the senses and through devotion to the Blessed Virgin. On the feast of the Annunciation in 1679, St. Kateri joyfully made a private vow of perpetual virginity and asked Mary to accept her as a daughter.
Only a year after making her vow, she became extremely ill, possibly having caught pneumonia. On April 17, during Holy Week, St. Kateri Tekakwitha passed away at age 23. Those who assisted at her death were privileged to witness a miracle, the first of many that would be attributed to her. Although St. Kateri’s face had been marked by smallpox her whole life, as her soul ascended to its heavenly glory, her skin became clear and radiant. With the apostle St. Paul, she could truly exclaim, “I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
More About Saint Kateri
At times, it may seem that all saints were older, from Europe, and lived as priests or nuns. However, this is not the case! St. Kateri Tekakwitha is one such example. St. Kateri’s life is unique in many ways; but perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that she is the first Native American to be canonized a saint.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father (who was also a chief), in upstate New York. At the age of four, her parents and brother died of smallpox. St. Kateri survived; however, the disease left her badly scarred and with impaired vision. It was because of her poor eyesight that she was called “Tekakwitha” which means “she who bumps into things.” After the death of her family, her uncle took her in to raise her. At age eight, she was paired with a young boy whom she was supposed to marry one day, as was Iroquois custom. St. Kateri did not want to marry the boy, for she wanted to dedicate her life to God. Her uncle was opposed to Christianity because he did not trust the settlers who taught the Faith, since it was through settlers that the Native Americans had also come in contact with smallpox and other diseases.
When St. Kateri was ten years old, a war broke out between the Native Americans and the French. Many of the Mohawks were killed, and their civilizations destroyed. The survivors moved to a new location, in Caughnawaga (which is where her shrine is located in present day). At age eighteen, St. Kateri began to study the Catholic Faith in secret. When she wanted to be baptized, she had to gain permission from her uncle. He agreed to allow her to be baptized under the condition that she would not leave their village. After her baptism, St. Kateri was ridiculed by those in her village. People made false accusations against her, and her life was threatened. St. Kateri escaped to the St. Francis Xavier mission in Canada, which was settlement of Christian Indians. She became known for her pleasant personality, her good works, and her sense of humor.
At age twenty-one, St. Kateri received her first holy communion. The day was Christmas Day, 1677. Later, in 1679, on the feast of the Annunciation, she made a vow of perpetual virginity. She offered herself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to become her own mother. St. Kateri spent her time teaching prayers to children, working with the elderly and the sick, and attending Mass. She had great devotion to the Eucharist and the Cross of Christ.
St. Kateri began to experience great suffering as the result of a serious illness. She died on April 17th, 1680, just before her 24th birthday. Her last words were, “Jesus – Mary – I love you.” It is said that shortly after her death, the scars and pockmarks that had been left behind by the smallpox she suffered as a child began to fade away, leaving behind a beautiful face that shone with loveliness. Prior to her death, St. Kateri had told her friends that she would pray for them from heaven. Both Native Americans and the settlers began to pray for her intercession, which led to miracles being attributed to her. Fifty years after the death of St. Kateri, a convent was founded in Mexico for Indian nuns who prayed for the canonization of St. Kateri. Their prayers were finally answered on October 21, 2012, when St. Kateri was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XVI. St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be given that honor. She is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” for her great purity. Her feast day is July 14.
Patronage of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the patron saint of the environment, the loss of parents, people in exile, people ridiculed for their piety, and World Youth Day.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Art
Images of St. Kateri Tekakwitha depict her as a young Native American woman, dressed in traditional costume of her tribe. She is often outdoors, which symbolizes the Native American culture of respect for the environment in which she was raised. Sometimes she is holding a cross or lilies, which tell of her devotion to Christ and the purity with which she lived her life.
Religious Medals of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
St. Kateri Tekakwitha is generally portrayer in Religious medal as a serene young woman in native american clothing. Frequently shown holding a lily, a reference to “lily of the Mohawks” a tile given to her.
Prayers of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Prayer to St. Kateri Tekakwitha
St. Kateri, Star of Native People and Bright Light for all! We thank God for your heroic courage, constant perseverance and deep love of the Cross. Pray for us that our love for Christ may deepen. And may we imitate you in following God’s Will even when difficulties arise. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Prayer to St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Lord God, You called the virgin Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, to shine among the American Indian people as an example of innocence of life. Through her intercession, may all peoples of every tribe, tongue and nation, having been gathered into Your Church, proclaim your greatness in one song of praise. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Novena Prayer to St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Kateri, favored child, Flower of the Algonquins and Lily of the Mohawks, We come to seek your intercession in our present need: (mention it here).
We admire the virtues which adorned your soul: love of God and neighbor, humility, obedience, patience, purity and the spirit of sacrifice. Help us to imitate your example in our life. Through the goodness and mercy of God, Who has blessed you with so many graces which led you to the true faith and to a high degree of holiness, pray to God for us and help us.
Obtain for us a very fervent devotion to the Holy Eucharist so that we may love Holy Mass as you did and receive Holy Communion as often as we can. Teach us also to be devoted to our crucified Savior as you were, that we may cheerfully bear our daily crosses for love of Him Who suffered so much for love of us. Most of all we beg you to pray that we may avoid sin, lead a holy life and save our souls. Amen.
In thanksgiving to God for the graces bestowed upon Kateri: one Our Father, Hail Mary and three Glory Be’s. Kateri, Flower of the Algonquins and Lily of the Mohawks, pray for us.
A Child’s Prayer to St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Kateri, loving child of God and Lily of the Mohawks, I thank God for the many graces He gave you. Help me to be more like you in my love for God and for people.
Give me a great love for the Holy Eucharist and the Mother of Jesus. Make me ready to make sacrifices for Jesus that I may save my soul and be happy with you in heaven.
Kateri, I love you. Always be my friend.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.