Sunday, October 21, 2012

Personality Profile -- 1: Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first aboriginal saint of the Canada-USA region

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, as painted by Father Claude Chauchetiere, S.J., circa 1696
Above images courtesy:

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)

Pope Benedict XVI, in a solemn ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, elevated Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (pronounced ‘gaderi dega’gwita) to the sainthood today. From now on, she will be known as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Kateri is the Iroquois name for Catherine, given to her on her baptism in honour of St. Catherine of Siena. She is also popularly known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.”

Belonging to the Mohawk First Nations (or aboriginal peoples) of North America, Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 at Ossernenon, known today as Auriesville in the state of New York, USA.     

Her non-Christian father was a Mohawk chief and mother a Roman Catholic Algonquin (a different  group of aboriginals) from Trois-Rivieres of present-day Quebec province in Canada. The Iroquois of the present USA area, while revenge-attacking the Catholic village in Quebec territory, captured her mother along with others and took them away. Her father, although belonging to the attacking group, saved her from further ignominy of a captive and married her.

In 1660, her father, mother and a brother died in a small-pox epidemic in the area. Although she survived the disease, she became extremely weak and partial-blind. The pox infections also caused pockmarks in her face. 

Her uncle, who was also another chief, and two aunts, took care of Tekakwitha. To avoid the cursed village, they moved five miles away to Caughnawaga (presently called Fonda in New York state) on the bank of the Mohawk River.

Tekakwitha lived a normal aboriginal life in the village playing with other children, helping out in the corn and vegetables fields, doing domestic chores, collecting firewood and nuts and roots, and drawing water from nearby stream and river.

She was not baptized yet; but whatever her mother used to tell her about Catholic faith and stories in her childhood, had a positive influence on her. 

In 1667, three Jesuit missionaries – Father Jacques Fremin, Father Jacques Bruyas, and Father Jean Pierron – visited her village. From them she heard something of the Catholic faith. 

In 1675, at the age of 18, Tekakwitha came in contact with another Jesuit priest, Father Jean de Lamberville, who arrived at her village and set up a chapel. Although her uncle did not like the “Blackrobe” – a term used by the then aboriginals for any Jesuit missionary who used to wear black cassock – and his alien religion, he tolerated his presence among them. The new priest persuaded her uncle to let Tekakwitha attend his religious instructions.
In 1677, at the age of 20, Tekakwitha received the Sacrament of Baptism on the Easter Day. She was given “Kateri” as her Christian name. “Kateri” in Iroquois language stands for Catherine. 

She strived to live her Christian life piously by spending her spare time in prayers, keeping away from work as part of the Sunday obligation, and fashioning crosses with twigs. She also refused to marry when proposed. 

Initially, she began to face ridicule from her family and neighbours. Later children’s taunting and throwing stones at her became a regular affair. Then, from the adults, came the threat of torture and death if she did not renounce her new religion and faith. Father de Lamberville advised her to go to the Catholic village of Kahnawake, near present-day Montreal of Quebec province in Canada, where she would be free to practice her faith. 

In July of 1677, she fled from her village with a few other converts and crossed more than 322 kilometers (200 miles) in two months through woods, rivers and swamps to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Kahnawake (then called Sault Saint-Louis by the French), a Mohawk village. Because of her strong faith and perseverance, she was given the First Holy Communion on Christmas Day of the same year. 

Kateri could neither read nor write, yet she tried to teach about Catholic religion to others. She was remarkably devoted to a life of prayer and sacrifice. She showed kindness to all and helped the poor and the sick. 

On March 25, 1679, Kateri took a vow of perpetual virginity and devoted her life to Christ. She also expressed her desire for starting a convent for aboriginal Sisters at Kahnawake, but her spriritual director Father Pierre Cholonec discouraged her. 

After the small-pox attack in her early age, Kateri was suffering from poor health for the rest of her life. Her health took a precarious turn at the age of 24, resulting in her death from tuberculosis on April 17, 1680. “Jesos Konoronkwa” (Jesus, I love you) were her last words before her death. Some witnesses at her death bed said that, after she died, Kateri’s face automatically underwent a drastic change; her pockmarked face became smooth losing all the scars she had before. They considered it a sign from God that he was pleased with her.

In the past centuries, there have been many claims of miracles (the sick being healed and prayers to her being answered) through her intercession. Pope Pius XII, on January 3, 1943, declared her a Venerable. Pope Paul II, on June 22, 1980, beatified her. Pope Benedict XVI canonized her on Sunday, October 21, 2012. 

Kateri Takakwitha is the first aboriginal saint in the region of Canada and USA.

Sources: 1. Blessed Kateri, Model Ecologist (,

2. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (,

3. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (,
4. The North American Martyrs (

Quotations of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

1.  “I am no longer my own. I have given myself entirely to Jesus Christ.” 

2.  “Jesus, I love you,” she said it at her death bed.

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