Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680)
She is the first Native American to be beatified.
She was the daughter of Kahenta (Flower of the Prairie),
a native Algonquin taken on a raid to New York.
Her father was a Mohawk chief, Kenhornkwa (Beloved).
The family lived in Osserneon, what is now Auerieville,
New York. Kateri had a brother named Otsikehta. When she was four years old, her parents and brother died from a
small pox epidemic. Although
she survived the epidemic, she was left with her face permanently
disfigured and her vision impaired.
Kateri was adopted by her uncle and two aunts.
She lived a secluded life, doing house chores and remaining
indoors most of the time because her inability to tolerate bright
The first missionaries arrived at the request of the Mohawks,
who wanted the “Black Robes”, the Jesuits. Upon arrival they were assigned to stay in
the same dwelling in which she was living with her family. After three days they left to visit other Mohawk
settlements with no apparent affect on Kateri. Upon the arrival of other Jesuit missionaries, the Mohawks converted
to Catholicism and moved from the village to a mission with
other Christians. When
she made known her desire for baptism, her uncle opposed.
Finally he consented but with the stipulation that she
would remain in the village after baptism.
A two-year instruction period was the rule, but an
exception was made for her because of her reputation of integrity.
She was baptized on Easter, April 5, 1676 and given the
name Catherine (Kateri in Iroquois). Everyone rejoiced with her. However, the rejoicing disappeared because
Kateri attempted to keep Sunday Holy by not working. People judged her as lazy. Others
ridiculed her strong devotion to Mary and the rosary. Her celibate lifestyle caused intense hostility.
Her aunts attempted to trick her into marrying a young
warrior. Her uncle urged
others to molest her. One
aunt attempted to destroy her reputation by insisting there
was an incestuous relationship between her and her uncle.
A young man attempted to kill her with a tomahawk. Teasing, insults, mockery and harsh treatment
were common in her daily life.
Despite this she remained cheerful to everyone.
Kateri decided to leave the village upon hearing about the life
of a catechist, who came to the village and lived on a mission.
While her uncle was away, a few men helped her to escape.
When he returned, he left with a loaded gun in pursuit
of his niece. He gave up the chase and returned home.
Kateri arrived at the mission in the autumn of 1677.
She resided with a friend of her mother, Anastasia and
with direction from a Jesuit missionary, her spiritual life
continued to develop. That Christmas, over 18 months after her
baptism, she made her first Communion.
Everyone who knew her, thought her deserving of becoming
a member of an organization, Confraternity of the Holy Family,
reserved for outstanding Catholics.
On Easter Sunday, she entered the confraternity and received
Communion, the second time in her life.
Prayer became important to Kateri. Early writings disclose that at 4:00am each
morning, no matter the weather, she was in church and remained
several hours in prayer. Although
Kateri lived an ordinary life, she wanted to dedicate herself
to God. She was permitted to make a vow of perpetual virginity on Mar. 25th,
1679. A deep friendship
was developed with a widow, Marie Therese.
They became spiritual companions, encouraged one another
in prayer and penance, and conversed about God and spiritual
Kateri became seriously ill during Holy Week of 168.
It was customary for persons who desired to receive viaticum
to be brought to church: however, because of her holiness, viaticum
was brought to her. She died Wednesday, April 17th, 1680 at the age of 24.
Those who saw her after her death described a beautiful
change in her features in that her facial disfigurement disappeared
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and
has the distinction of being the first Native American beatified
by the Catholic Church.
Her name Tekakwitha has been interpreted, “that which
or who puts things in order” or “one who advances and who casts
something before her”. As
Kateri, she became known as a lily among thorns, the Lily of
Mohawks, and “The Most Beautiful Flower that ever bloomed for