Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
  "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, New York     Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) is popularly known as the patroness of people who love nature, work in ecology, and work to preserve the natural and human environments. St. Kateri is the first Native North American saint. St. Kateri Tekakwitha's baptismal name is Catherine, which in the Iroquois languages is Kateri. Kateri's Iroquois name, Tekakwitha, can be translated as "One who places things in order" or “To put all into place”. Other translations include, "she pushes with her hands" and "one who walks groping for her way" (because of her faulty eyesight). St. Kateri was born at Ossernenon, which today is near Auriesville, New York, USA. St. Kateri's father was a Kanienkehaka (Kanien’kehá:ka or “Mohawk”) chief and her mother was a Catholic Algonquin. At the age of four, smallpox attacked St. Kateri's village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, and leaving Kateri an orphan. Although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind, Kateri survived. The brightness of the sun blinded her and she would feel her way around as she walked.    St. Kateri was adopted by her two aunts and her uncle, also a Kanienkehaka chief. After the smallpox outbreak subsided, Kateri 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, which today is in Fonda, New York. The Iroquois peoples had a deep connection with the land, and with the fields, forests, lakes, and rivers of their homeland. They had long managed natural resources for food, shelter, and clothing. They hunted, fished, farmed, gathered, harvested, and traded for their material needs. The Iroquois peoples were keenly aware of nature’s rhythms and resources. In many ways, St. Kateri's life was the same as many young Native American girls. It entailed days filled with chores, spending happy times with other girls, communing with nature, and planning for her future. St. Kateri 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 became very skilled at beadwork. Although St. Kateri was not baptized as an infant, she likely 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 would have 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 listen to Him in her heart and in the voice of nature. When Kateri was eighteen years old, Father de Lamberville, a Jesuit missionary, came to Caughnawaga and established a chapel. Her uncle may have disliked the "blackrobe" and his strange new religion, but he permitted the missionary's presence. Kateri vaguely remembered her mother's whispered prayers, and was fascinated by the new stories she heard about Jesus Christ. She wanted to learn more about Him and to become a Christian. Father de Lamberville persuaded her uncle to allow Kateri to attend religious instructions. The following Easter, twenty-year old Kateri was baptized. Not everyone in St. Kateri's family accepted her choice to embrace Christ. After her baptism, Kateri became a village outcast. Her family refused her food on Sundays because she wouldn't work. Some children would taunt her and throw stones. She was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion. Because of increasing hostility from her people and because she wanted to devote her life to Jesus, in July of 1677, Kateri left her village and traveled more than 200 miles through woods and rivers 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 and her undying faith she was allowed to receive her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day in 1677. Although not formally educated and unable to read and write, St. Kateri led a life of prayer and penitential practices. She taught the young and helped those in the village who were poor or sick. Kateri spoke words of kindness to everyone she encountered. 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. St. Kateri's motto became, "Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?" Kateri 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, St. Kateri made a vow of perpetual virginity, meaning that she would remain unmarried and totally 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, which was 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 St. Kateri throughout her life and her severe penitential practices contributed to her death in 1680 at the age of 24. Kateri’s 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 face miraculously cleared and was made beautiful by God. This miracle was witnessed by two Jesuit priests and all the others able to fit into the room. St. Kateri is known as the "Lily of the Mohawks" and the "Beautiful Flower Among True Men". The Catholic Church declared Kateri venerable in 1943. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012, thus becoming the first Native North American saint. St. Kateri’s feast day is celebrated on July 14th in the United States and on April 17th in Canada. (If April 17 falls on Palm Sunday to the 8th day of the Easter Octave, which is the Sunday after Easter Sunday, her feast day is celebrated before Palm Sunday or soon after the Sunday after Easter Sunday.) Pope John Paul II designated Blessed Kateri as a patroness for World Youth Day 2002. St. Kateri's tomb is found at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake, near Montreal, Quebec.  St. Kateri is honored at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York, and at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York. St. Kateri's name is pronounced kä'tu-rē. Her Iroquois name, Tekakwitha, is often pronounced  tek"u-kwith'u. Her name Tekakwitha is occasionally spelled Tegakouita. You can see and listen to various pronunciations of Tekakwitha's name at Merriam-Webster online. The Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) pronunciation of her name is sometimes described as Gah-Dah-LEE Degh-Agh-WEEdtha, Gah the lee Deh gah qwee tah, or Gaderi Dega'gwita. "I am no longer my own. I have given myself entirely to Jesus Christ.” + Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
This painting by Father Claude Chauchetière, S.J. (circa 1696) is one of the oldest portraits of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
Saint Kateri portrait by Lisa E. Brown
Saint Kateri, pray for us.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center
The Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, Inc. is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization (tax identification number 46-1437406) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.
Copyright © 2000, 2016 Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, Inc.
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Saint Kateri portrait by Lisa E. Brown
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