When Kateri Tekakwitha was proclaimed St. Kateri Tekakwitha in 2012, she was the first member of a North American tribe to be declared a saint. “The Lily of the Mohawks,” Kateri was born in 1656 in a village along the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now known as Auriesville, New York. Her father was a Mohawk chief, her mother a Christian Algonquin raised among the French.
When Kateri was 4, a smallpox epidemic claimed her parents and baby brother. She survived, but her face was disfigured and her vision impaired. She was raised by her anti-Christian uncle, who began to plan her marriage. But after meeting with Catholic priests, Kateri decided to be baptized.
Following her Baptism by a Jesuit missionary in 1676 at age 20, Kateri’s family and village ostracized and ridiculed her. She fled the next year to Canada, taking refuge at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Caughnawaga on the St. Lawrence River, about 10 miles from Montreal, and made her first Communion on Christmas in 1677.
Kateri astounded the Jesuits with her deep spirituality and her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She took a private vow of virginity and devoted herself to teaching prayers to the children and helping the sick and elderly of Caughnawaga.
She died in 1680 at age 24. According to eyewitnesses, the scars on her face suddenly disappeared after her death. Soon after, Catholics started to claim that favors and miracles had been obtained through her intercession. Native Americans have made appeals to the Catholic Church for her recognition since at least the late 1800s.
Documentation for Kateri’s sainthood cause was sent to the Vatican in 1932. She was declared venerable in 1942 and in 1980 was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
Records for the final miracle needed for her canonization were sent to the Vatican in July 2009. It involved the full recovery of a young boy in Seattle whose face had been disfigured by flesh-eating bacteria and who almost died from the disease. His family, who is part Native American, had prayed for Kateri’s intercession. On December 19, 2011, then-Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree recognizing the miracle, clearing the way for Kateri’s canonization.
“Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture,” it was said at her canonization Mass. “In her, faith and culture enrich each other! May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are. St. Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America! May God bless the first nations!”
O Great Lily of the Mohawks, we ask that you take our intentions to the foot of the cross. Ask Jesus to bring healing to those who are heavily burdened. Through your intercession, may this favor be granted if it is according to the will of God. By your prayer, help us always to remain faithful to Jesus and to his Holy Church. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us. Amen.