Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American saint canonized by the Catholic church. Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in what is now New York. Her father was a member of the Mohawk people and her mother was a Christianized Algonquin woman. When she was four years old, her family came down with smallpox and she was the only survivor. She was sent to live with her uncle, who had a very anti-Christian stance. At age 11, three Jesuit priest came into the village where she was staying and she was fascinated with the lives that they led and the words that they spoke.
When Tekakwitha was 20 years old, she was baptized and given the name Catherine after Catherine of Siena (who I will be writing about in April), which is rendered as Kateri in Mohawk speech. Shortly after she was baptized, Tekakwitha had to flee her village due to harassment and threats. She found safety 200 miles north at a Christian mission near Montreal. While living at the mission, she became known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” because of her kindness, prayer, faith, and heroic suffering. Tekakwitha would take very seriously performing penances for her sins. The penances that she would perform were very severe, things like praying the rosary in a frozen river. She lived at the mission for four years until she died in 1680, during Holy Week, at the age of 24.
Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized in October of 2012. She is the patron saint of ecology, the environment, Indigenous peoples, and people in exile. There is a Catholic conservation center that is based in New York named after her with the mission “to promote Catholic faith, integral ecology, and the diversity of life.” They encourage people across the country to plant gardens and other areas of natural beauty using native plants with the intent of creating a space for people to be one with God. There are three of these habitats found in Indianapolis.
This is part of a monthly series of newsletter articles written by Intern Bridget.