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Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
  • Century: 17th Century
  • Patronage: Ecologists, Ecology, Environment, Environmentalists, Loss of Parents, People in Exile, People ridicu
  • Feast Day: July 14th

St. Kateri Takawitha was born in 1656 in the Mohawk village, near present day Auriesville, New York.  She was the daughter of the Mohawk Chief.  Her mother was a Roman Catholic Algonquin, who had been adopted into the tribe after her capture.  Her mother had been baptized and educated by French Missionaries, just east of Montreal.  Mohawk warriors captured her and took her to their homeland.  The village was highly diverse, as the Mohawks were absorbing many captured natives of other tribes.  The Mohawks suffered a smallpox epidemic, and when Kateri was 4, her baby brother and both of her parents died of smallpox.  She survived the disease, but was left with facial scars that impaired her eyesight.  She was adopted by her father’s sister and husband, a chief of the Turtle Clan.  

According to the Jesuit’s account of Kateri, she was a modest girl who avoided social gatherings, and she covered most of her head due to the smallpox scars.  As a youth she was under the care of uninterested relatives. She was taken care of by her clan, her mother and uncle’s extended family.  She became skilled at traditional women’s arts, making clothing and belts, weaving mats, baskets, and boxes, preparing food from game, growing crops, and gathering produce.  She was pressured to consider marriage at the age of thirteen, but refused.  At the age of ten, the French attacked the Mohawk in present-day central New York in 1666.  They drove them from their homes and burned all three of the Mohawk villages.  She along with her tribe, fled into a cold forest.  

After the defeat by the French forces, they were forced into a peace treaty that required them to accept Jesuit missionaries into their villages.  While there, the Jesuits studied Mohawk and other native languages in order to reach the people.  While the Jesuits lived among them, she was not to have any contact with them to avoid her converting to Christianity.  In 1669, several Mohican warriors advance from the east, and launched a three-day attack.  Kateri helped the Priests tend to the wounded, bury the dead, and carry food and water to those fighting on the front lines.  

In 1671, Mohawk chief Ganeagowa, who had led his warriors to victory against the Mohicans, returned from a long hunting trip in the north and announced he had become a Christian.  On his trip he had discovered Catholic Iroquois village set up by Jesuits.  He made a friend with Fr. Jacques Fremin, who served as a missionary in the Mohawk country.  He was encouraged by the Catholic faith of the Iroquois villagers and of his own wife Satekon.  He received instructions for several months from Fr. Fremin and was accepted into the Church.  Kateri’s adoptive parents tried everything they could, including punishment to get Kateri to marry, but she accepted the punishment and continued her resistance to marriage.  In the spring of 1675 Kateri met with a Jesuit Priest and started studying the catechism.  She was baptized at the age of 20, and only remained in her village for six months.  Most of the Mohawks opposed her conversion and accused her of sorcery.  She was advised by her priest to join a Jesuit mission just south of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, where other native converts were gathered.  She joined them in 1677.  

Kateri was said to have put thorns on her sleeping mat and to have lain on them while praying for the conversion of her kinsmen.  She spent a lot of time repenting for other’s sins.  She and others in her village heard about nuns and they wanted their own, forming an informal association of devout women.  She was quoted as saying, “I have deliberated enough.  For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made.  I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary, I have chosen Him for my husband, and He alone will take me for His wife”.  Everyone noticed how pious she was, and how deep her faith was.  

It was during Holy Week of 1680, that Kateri’s health was failing.  She performed extreme mortifications of the body, and offered it up.  Soon the people around her knew she had only a few hours left, so the villagers gathered together, accompanied by the Priest to provide last rites.  She died on Wednesday of Holy Week, April 17, 1680 around 3pm at the age of 23 or 24.  She died in the arms of her friend Maria-Therese.  Her final words were “Jesus, I love you”.  

The people around her noticed a physical change to her body.  About 15 minutes after her death, her face that was so marked and scared by smallpox from her childhood, suddenly changed and became in a moment “so beautiful and white”.  Three people, her mentor – her companion – and her Priest, all reported that Kateri had appeared to them in the weeks after her death.  Her stepmother reported that she appeared “kneeling at the foot of her mattress, holding a wooden cross that shone like the sun”.  Her companion Maria-Therese reported that she was awakened at night by a knocking on her wall, and a voice asked if she were awake, adding, “I’ve come to say good by, I’m on my way to heaven”.  She was asked to go and tell the Priest she was on her way to Heaven.  The Priest reported seeing Kateri at her grave, he said, “She appeared in splendor, for two hours.  He gazed upon her, and her face lifted toward heaven as if in ecstasy”.  

Fr Chauchetiere had a Chapel built near her gravesite.  By 1684, pilgrims had begun to honor her there. The Jesuits turned her bones to dust and set the ashes within the “newly rebuilt mission chapel”.  This symbolized her presence on earth, and her physical property left behind was sometimes used as relics for healing. 

Practical Take Away

St. Kateri Takawitha was born in 1656 in the Mohawk village, near present day Auriesville, New York.  She was the daughter of the Mohawk Chief.  Her mother was a Roman Catholic Algonquin, who had been adopted into the tribe after her capture.  Her mother had been baptized and educated by French Missionaries, just east of Montreal.  Mohawk warriors captured her and took her to their homeland.  The village was highly diverse, as the Mohawks were absorbing many captured natives of other tribes.  The Mohawks suffered a smallpox epidemic, and when Kateri was 4, her baby brother and both of her parents died of smallpox.  She survived the disease, but was left with facial scars that impaired her eyesight.  She was adopted by her father’s sister and husband, a chief of the Turtle Clan.  She was batized Catholic at the age of 20, and practiced mortifications to the body, in reperation for her kinsmen.  She died at the age of 23 or 24, during Holy Week.  She appeared to three people weeks after her death, claiming she came to say good bye, on her way to heaven.