The first Native American saint, Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, will be canonized on October 21. Since today is her feast day, I though I would take some time to write about her.
She was born in 1656 near present-day Auriesville, New York, the daughter of a Mohawk chief. Her mother, an Algonquin, was a Christian convert, baptized by French missionaries, who often spoke to the little Tekakwitha about Jesus. But when she was four, both her parents died in a smallpox epidemic; the same disease left Tekakwitha’s face scarred for life. She was brought up by an uncle, who did not like the Jesuit missionaries, and made sure she had no chance to see them. At the age of eighteen, she had not been baptized. But she yearned to learn more about Jesus.
This touching account of her baptism comes from a very early work by a Jesuit who knew her in the last years of her life, Fr. Claude Chauchetiere (he also painted the portrait of her seen here):
When Fr. Jacques Lamberville was at the Anies, God turned his eyes of mercy to Catherine’s longhouse and to her . . . Catherine had thus spent eighteen years in unbelief when God sent her a malady that cured her from sin and inspired Fr. Lamberville to go instruct this girl to baptize her.
Spring had come, and all those in the longhouse went out to work in the fields, according to custom. Catherine had gone there a number of times; it is for that reason that she was not in the habit of being in the longhouse doing nothing when the others worked, but she had a pain in one foot and her pain obliged her to remain for several days lying down without being able to walk. The missionary Father, who knew well that those in this longhouse were not lazy, was not accustomed to enter this longhouse at all and above all because of Catherine’s uncle, who did not love the French people of Montreal.
As the Father was passing through the village and and arrived at Catherine’s longhouse, he felt impelled to enter it. There he found Catherine; never was there a happier meeting for the young girl, who wanted to speak to the Father and who did not dare to go seek him out, and for the Father, who found a treasure where he though to find no one; the first words that Catherine said to the Father revealed the feelings of her heart. . . the Father exhorted her and was content for that time to invite her to pray to God in the chapel; this first exhortation produced a great effect, for God gave such a blessing there that Catherine was cured; after that she never failed to pray to God and there were only two places in the world for her, the longhouse and the chapel . . .
When Catherine had persevered for some time in going to prayer as a catechumen, the Father thought to baptize her . . . she herself entered into an extraordinary state of joy when the news of her baptism was brought to her; she learned the prayers for it with a quickness and avidity that were marvelous, for fear that this baptism would be put off on the pretext that she was not well enough instructed.
The Father chose Easter to perform so solemn a baptism and the place where she was baptized was the chapel; this baptism was done with all the ceremonies of the Church . . . She was given the name of Catherine [Kateri]
The Holy Spirit, entering into Catherine in her baptism, made her His dear spouse and put her in the ranks of the souls of their elite and elevated her in four years to great sanctity; he left her for two years in her longhouse to triumph over the unbelief of the Iroquois, the serve as an example to the new church of the Anies, and to increase the merit of Catherine, whose virtue was tried in a number of ways. (La vie de la Bl. Catherine Tegakouita, dite a present la Saincte Sauuagesse; Manate, 1887; translation mine).
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us!