Tekakwitha, Kateri, Bl.
TEKAKWITHA, KATERI, BL.
First North American Indian to be declared blessed;b. ca. 1656, Ossernenon (Auriesville), NY; d. Apr. 17, 1680, Caughnawaga, Canada.
Kateri's mother was a Christian Algonquin, who was raised among the French at Three Rivers, taken captive by the Iroquois, and made the wife of a pagan chief of the Mohawk tribe. Of this marriage two children were born, Tekakwitha and her younger brother. At four years of age the girl was taken into the home of an uncle after she had lost her father, mother, and brother in a smallpox epidemic. The disease left her disfigured and with impaired eyesight.
In 1667 she had her first meeting with Christian missionaries, three of whom were given temporary lodging by her uncle. Although the girl was very favorably impressed by these Jesuit missionaries, shyness and fear of her uncle probably kept her from seeking instruction. In 1675, however, she met Rev. Jacques de Lamberville, who instructed her in the Christian faith and baptized her on Easter, Apr. 5, 1676, giving her the name of Kateri, or Katharine.
Katharine's conversion and her exemplary life stirred up so much opposition that the priest advised her to flee to the Christian native village on the St. Lawrence River, where she would be able to grow in virtue without external hindrance. After a trek of nearly 200 miles she arrived at Sault St. Louis, near Montreal, in October 1677; she received her first Holy Communion there on Christmas Day.
For the next three years, under the direction of Rev. Pierre Cholonec, and with the encouragement of an older Iroquois woman, Anastasia Tegonhatsihongo, she led a life of great austerity and charity. On Mar. 25, 1679, Katharine gave herself completely to Christ by a private vow of chastity—a most exceptional act for a native woman, whose maintenance depended upon getting a husband.
Her death at the age of 24 served as an inspiration to the Indian community and was followed by an extraordinary outburst of religious fervor among them. The three missionaries who knew her best, Jacques de Lamberville, Claude Chauchetière, and Pierre Cholonec, left a collection of biographical data, written during the 35 years following her death. This, together with other sources provided the documentation for her cause of beatification, which was introduced in Rome on July 11, 1932. The Tekakwitha League, located at Auriesville, publishes a quarterly and directs other activities to disseminate knowledge of her.
During the beatification ceremony (June 22, 1980), John Paul II praised Kateri as "the Iroquois maiden, who in 17th–century North America was the first to renew the marvels of the sanctity of SS. scholastica, gertrude, catherine of siena, Angela merici and rose of lima. She preceded along the path of Love, her great spiritual sister, Thérèse of the Child Jesus." Her tomb at Caughnawaga is a pilgrimage site. Patron of Native Americans, ecology, and the environment.
Feast: April 17 (Canada); July 14 (U.S.A.)
Bibliography: Katharine Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks: The Position of the S. Congregation of Rites on the Introduction of the Cause for Beatification … (New York 1940). Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, ed. r. g. thwaites, 73 v. (Cleveland 1896–1901; New York 1959–). Acta Apostolicae Sedis, no. 73 (1981): 235–258. L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, no. 26 (1980): 10–11. h. bÉchard, Kaia'tanóron Kateri Tekakwitha (Québec 1992). m. c. buehrle, Kateri of the Mohawks (Milwaukee 1954). m. r. and m. bunson, Kateri Tekakwitha (Huntington, IN 1993). l. fisher, Kateri Tekakwitha (Boston 1996). É. lecompte, Glory of the Mohawks, tr. f. ralston werum (Milwaukee 1944). u. de urtassum, La gracia triunfante en la vida de Catharina Tegakovita, india iroquesa (Madrid 1994).
[j. d. l. leonard]