Kateri, called the “Lily of the Mohawks,” had virtually no traditional family support on her Christian journey. By some reports, her Algonquin mother was a Christian, educated by French missionaries.
However, before her mother, father, or baby brother could have much influence on the four-year-old’s life, all of them died of smallpox. The disease also left the child with facial scarring and partially blind. It was because of the latter that she became known as Tekakwitha—“she who bumps into things.”
She went to live with an uncle and aunt. It was as a servant in their home that she met the Jesuit missionaries who put her on the path to Christianity. It would be nine years before she was baptized, taking the name Kateri in honor of Catherine of Siena. While her uncle did not oppose her conversion, others in the community were less accepting and began to talk of her as a sorceress. Tensions at home grew when Kateri refused to marry the man who had been selected for her, saying she was not called to marriage.
Finally, Kateri left the village and traveled for two months to reach a Catholic mission near Montreal. She worked with children and the elderly, providing tender guidance in the community that would become her family. She was only twenty-six when she died of tuberculosis. We know her today as the first Native American to be formally canonized.
No one has a perfect upbringing or is a perfect parent. Our faith community is sometimes people with whom we are joined in Spirit, not blood. In Kateri, we see the power of the unquenchable thirst for Christ, even when those around us ridicule and hurt us as we seek to quench that thirst.
“Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?”
—Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Write a letter of thanks to the person—one of your parents, perhaps, or your childhood pastor or a teacher who fed your spiritual fire while you were growing up.