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Kateri Tekakwitha

Saturday, July 24, 2004
Kateri Tekakwitha
Blessed Kateri, Model Ecologist

"Kateri was a child of nature. Her sainthood will raise the minds and hearts of those who love nature and work in ecology."

--Bishop Stanislaus Brzana, Bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) is honored by the Catholic Church as the patroness of ecology and the environment. (Mohawk pronunciation: Gah-Dah-LEE Degh-Agh-WEEdtha.) Tekakwitha was born near the town of Auriesville, New York, USA. Tekakwitha's father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was a Catholic Algonquin.

At the age of four, smallpox attacked her village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, and leaving Tekakwitha an orphan. Although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind, Tekakwitha survived.

The brightness of the sun blinded her and she would feel her way around as she walked. Seeing her groping about, they named here Tekakwitha, which means "The One Who Walks Groping for Her Way." Poetically, her name is sometimes translated as "The One Who Puts Everything in Order." It is said that Sonkwaiatison, God the Creator, left her in darkness to see His light.

Tekakwitha was adopted by her two aunts and her uncle, also a Mohawk chief. After the smallpox outbreak subsided, Tekakwitha and her people abandoned their village and built a new settlement, called Caughnawaga, some five miles away on the north bank of the Mohawk River.

In many ways, Tekakwitha's life was the same as all young Native American girls. It entailed days filled with chores, spending happy times with other girls, communing with nature, and planning for her future.

Tekakwitha grew into a young woman with a sweet, shy personality. She helped her aunts work in the fields where they tended to the corn, beans, and squash, and took care of the traditional longhouse in which they lived. She went to the neighboring forest to pick the roots needed to prepare medicines and dye. She collected firewood in the forest and water from a stream. Despite her poor vision, she also became very skilled at beadwork.

Although Tekakwitha was not baptized as an infant, she had fond memories of her good and prayerful mother and of the stories of Catholic faith that her mother shared with her in childhood. These remained indelibly impressed upon her mind and heart and were to give shape and direction to her life's destiny. She often went to the woods alone to speak to God and to listen to God in her heart and in the voice of nature.

When Tekakwitha was eighteen, Father de Lamberville, a Jesuit missionary, came to Caughnawaga and established a chapel. Her uncle disliked the "Blackrobe" and his strange new religion, but tolerated the missionary's presence. Kateri vaguely remembered her mother's whispered prayers, and was fascinated by the new stories she heard about Jesus Christ, Son of the Holy Virgin. She wanted to learn more about Him and to become a Christian.

Father de Lamberville persuaded her uncle to allow Tekakwitha to attend religious instructions. The following Easter, twenty-year old Tekakwitha was baptized. Radiant with joy, she was given the name of Kateri, which is Mohawk for Catherine.

Kateri's family did not accept her choice to embrace Christ. After her baptism, Kateri became the village outcast. Her family refused her food on Sundays because she wouldn't work. Children would taunt her and throw stones. She was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion.

Left: This is the oldest portrait of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha,

painted by Father Chauchetière in 1682-93

Because of increasing hostility from her people and because she wanted to devote her life to working for God, in July of 1677, Kateri left her village and fled more than 200 miles (322 km) through woods, rivers, and swamps to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Sault Saint-Louis, near Montreal. Kateri's journey through the wilderness took more than two months. Because of her determination in proving herself worthy of God and her undying faith she was allowed to receive her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1677.

Although not formally educated and unable to read and write, Kateri led a life of prayer and penitential practices. She taught the young and helped those in the village who were poor or sick. Her favorite devotion was to fashion crosses out of sticks and place them throughout the woods. These crosses served as stations that reminded her to spend a moment in prayer.

Kateri's motto became, "Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?" She spent much of her time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling in the cold chapel for hours. When the winter hunting season took Kateri and many of the villagers away from the village, she made her own little chapel in the woods by carving a Cross on a tree and spent time in prayer there, kneeling in the snow. Kateri loved the Rosary and carried it around her neck always.

Often people would ask, "Kateri, tell us a story." Kateri remembered everything she was told about the life of Jesus and his followers. People would listen for a long time. They enjoyed being with her because they felt the presence of God. One time a priest asked the people why they gathered around Kateri in church. They told him that they felt close to God when Kateri prayed. They said that her face changed when she was praying. It became full of beauty and peace, as if she were looking at God's face.

On March 25, 1679, Kateri made a vow of perpetual virginity, meaning that she would remain unmarried and devoted to Christ for the rest of her life. Kateri hoped to start a convent for Native American sisters in Sault St. Louis but her spiritual director, Father Pierre Cholonec discouraged her. Kateri's health, never good, was deteriorating rapidly due in part to the penances she inflicted on herself. Father Cholonec encouraged Kateri to take better care of herself but she laughed and continued with her "acts of love."

The poor health which plagued her throughout her life led to her death in 1680 at the age of 24. Her last words were, "Jesus, I love You." Like the flower she was named for, the lily, her life was short and beautiful. Moments after dying, her scarred and disfigured face miraculously cleared and was made beautiful by God. This miracle was witnessed by two Jesuits and all the others able to fit into the room.

Kateri is known as the "Lily of the Mohawks." The Catholic Church declared Kateri venerable in 1943. She was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. Kateri is the first Native American to be declared Blessed. Her feast is celebrated on July 14th in the United States. Pope John Paul II has designated Blessed Kateri as a patroness for World Youth Day 2002.

The icon of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is by Meltem Aktas. A convert to Catholicism, Turkish-born Meltem Aktas has embraced the art of iconography as part of our ancient spiritual tradition. The ultimate purpose of the icons is an encounter with the invisible God through the image in an ancient form of quiet, meditative prayer. Sacred art is a passion for which Aktas has truly given her heart, soul and hands. Click here for more information about the artist. Copyright Imago, Inc. All rights reserved.

"In this day and age, when the pleasure-principle so dominates our society, and when people expend all kinds of time, effort and energy to remove the Cross from Christianity and to escape the sometimes harsh realities and responsibilities of mature Christian living, Kateri Tekakwitha stands as an heroic example of how to integrate the mystery of the Cross with the mystery of the Resurrection in a way that gives honor and glory to God and that ensures loving service to His people."

-Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, DD, Bishop of Albany, N.Y.

Prayer for the Canonization of
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
O God who, among the many marvels of Your Grace in the New World, did cause to blossom on the banks of the Mohawk and of the St. Lawrence, the pure and tender Lily, Kateri Tekakwitha, grant we beseech You, the favor we beg through her intercession; that this Young Lover of Jesus and of His Cross may soon be counted among her Saints by Holy Mother Church, and that our hearts may be enkindled with a stronger desire to imitate her innocence and faith. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
--Imprimatur: Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, DD, Bishop of Albany, N.Y.

Kateri On-Line:
Kateri On-Line is a virtual shrine and museum dedicated to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, patroness of ecology.

The Tekakwitha League - Here you will find information on the canonization cause of Blessed Kateri.

Visit the website of the National Kateri Shrine, at Kateri's home, Caughnawaga ("Laughing Waters")
from 1666, when she was ten, to 1677.

Kateri Tekakwitha - lots of Kateri links.

A RealAudio profile of Kateri from EWTN.

The Three Qualities of Kateri, an article by Bishop Hubbard. The three qualities are: (1) the reality of the Cross in daily life, (2) fortitude, determination, and conviction, and (3) prayer, the key to life.

Lesson Plan:
Click here for a lesson plan for teachers about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Be patient, it may take a while to load.

Books About Kateri:
Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Maid by Evelyn M. Brown

Kaiatanoron Kateri Tekakwitha, by Fr. Henri Bechard. This is one of the most complete accounts ever written about Blessed Kateri. "Kaiatanoron" means "Blessed."

Kateri Tekakwitha: The Lily of the Mohawks by Lillian M. Fisher

Kateri Tekakwitha (Saints You Should Know Series) by Margaret R. Bunson, Matthew E. Bunson

Kateri Tekakwitha: Mystic of the Wilderness by Margaret R. Bunson

Kateri of the Mohawks by Marie Cecilia Buehrle (1954, reissued 1962)

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