The Catholic Defender: The Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Story Of Heroic Faith
New York in 1656 was a much different place, the Europeans were firmly planted in the New World.
By 1626, Manhattan was purchased by Dutch Settlers and from that time on, let’s call it progress.
Saint Kateri was born in a small village outside of Auriesville, New York just 30 years later. She was born into the Mohawk tribe that was part of the Iroquois Nations that were populated up in the upper north east United States and Canada.
For centuries, the Mohawks were defenders and guardians of the Iroquois Federation protecting against invasion by neighboring Indian tribes.
The Mohicans called them “Maw Unk Lin” meaning the “Bear Place People”. It was the Dutch that gave them the name “Mohawk”. They were known for being warriors.
There were several Catholic Missionaries such as St. Isaac Jogues, St. John La Lande (Just 18 years old), and others who gave their lives bringing Christ to the New World.
Father Isaac Jogues would be forced to run the “guantlet” running through lines of Indians while a prisoner of the Iroquois in 1641.
He described the ordeal in a letter that appears in the book "The Jesuit Martyrs of North America".
Through his preaching Christ was introduced and many of the Indians accepted Christ.
With the coming of the Europeans to the New World they also brought with them disease, the common cold was for the Indians very dangerous.
Smallpox would literally kill St. Tekakwitha’s Mother when she was only four years old and Kateri was also infected.
This caused a slight disfigurement of her face.
Relatives would raise St. Kateri Tekakwitha where by the time she was thirteen years old, she began listening to the stories of Jesus Christ that captivated her soul.
She developed a deep love for Our Lord and His Mother, the Virgin Mary.
Mary, the Mother of all Christians, would become the spiritual Mother of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
St. Tekakwitha would be baptized at the age of twenty despite the great opposition among her tribe.
The Mohawk Indians were largely animist in their belief system. Their way of life was totally different from the Europeans who brought Christianity to them.
The diseases made it hard for the Indians at that time to get past their superstitions.
Despite the internal persecution St. Tekakwitha received from her family and tribe, she remained firm in her Catholic Faith.
In Canada, there was a Christian colony of Indians that St. Tekakwitha would move to where she lived the life of prayer and penance.
Because of her experience with smallpox, she had a heart of compassion for the sick and ill where she cared and worked bringing aid to the suffering.
Every morning before dawn, St. Tekakwitha would be waiting for the Priests to open up the chapel door and she would remain there until after the last prayers had been offered. She loved the Mass offered each day. She had experienced the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist which became her source of strength and inspiration.
St. Paul writes, “but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ gave the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Saint Tekakwitha’s life became centered on the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection from the dead. Over the objections of her tribe, she loved the image of the crucifix which reminded her of His great love for her.
Christ’s call for His Church to go to all the nations continues this very day and will until He returns. At the age of 24, Saint Tekakwitha died on April 17, 1680. This was on a Wednesday of Holy Week when people gathered around her bedside. It was now only a matter of time. There were two Catholic Priests present, Father Chauchetiere and Cholemec who provide the Anointing of the Sick for St. Tekakwitha. She would die peacefully in the arms of her friend, Marie-Theresa. Her final words were, “Jesus, I love you”.
Symbolically, she died at the 3:00 hour just as Jesus died on the cross, at the 3:00 hour.
Heaven gives a great sign of her reward to her God as the scars of smallpox vanished from her face. She was very beautiful in death as she is for all eternity with the Saints of Heaven.
Father Cholenec writes,“This face, so marked and swarthy, suddenly changed about a quarter of an hour after her death, and became in a moment so beautiful and so white that I observed it immediately.”
So beautiful was St. Tekakwitha that word spread of the miracle as she became known as the “Lily of the Mohawks”.
Hebrews 12:1 states,“Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden…”, St. Tekakwitha, being among that great crowd of Heaven, appeared three weeks later before three of her friends who were still shedding tears of sorrow for her.
Anastasia (Tegonhatsiongo) (her mentor), Marie-Therese (Tegaiaguenta) (her companion), and Father Chauchetiere reported that St. Tekakwitha was seen in a vision kneeling holding a wooden cross that shown like the sun.
St. Tekawitha was appearing in glory on her way home as to say goodbye.
Father Chauchetiere states that he witnessed St. Tekakwitha for two hours as “her face lifted towards heaven as if in ecstasy”.
This sign from Heaven has been seen in the lives of many Saints, what a great vision to behold that Jesus will say to you, “Well done good and faithful servant”. That should be the goal of all of us.
A church was built in her honor and by 1684 pilgrimages soon took place, many reported miracles and conversion would take place to include one of the Mohawk Chiefs.
The Priests turned her bones to dust and set the ashes within the chapel symbolizing her presence on earth.
St. Kateri Teckakwitha is the first Native American to be declared a Saint as she was canonized on 10/21/2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Her feast day is July 14 and is honored to be the patroness of the environment and ecology as is St. Francis of Assisi.
Through the devotion given to St. Tekawitha, important ministries were developed helping the Native Americans throughout the Unites States and Canada. Today, thousands visit annually to shrines dedicated to Kateri. You can visit her place of birth at Auriesville, New York this very day.
John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”.