July 14, the Feast of Kateri Tekakwitha – the First North American Indian Saint


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

In the United States, July 14, is the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. In Canada, the feast is celebrated on April 17.

Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native North American saint and the fourth Native American to be venerated in the Roman Catholic Church after Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin – canonized on July 31, 2002, at the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City by Pope John Paul II, and two other Oaxacan Indians. She is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and the “Genevieve of New France“. Like St. Francis of Assisi she is also the patroness of the environment and ecology.

Tekakwitha was a Mohawk-Algonquin virgin and laywoman belonging to the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois nation. She was born in Auriesville, now part of New York in  As a child she lost her parents to a smallpox epidemic. She survived the catastrophe with damaged eyesight and pockmarks on her face. Her paternal uncle, a village chief, a great foe of the Roman Catholic missionaries from France in the area, adopted the orphaned girl.

Shunned by her tribe for her religious conversion to Catholicism, Tekakwitha settled for the last years of her life in the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal in New France, now Canada.

She was baptized as Kateri Tekakwitha at the age of 20. The name “Kateri” is derived from the French “Catherine”. She professed the evangelical vow of chastity and corporal mortification of the flesh.

Kateri Tekakwitha  died on April 17, 1680, aged 24, at Caughnawaga, Canada. Her last words were “Jesos Konoronkwa” (“Jesus, I love you”).

It is alleged that after her death, the scars on her face cleared. Various miracles and supernatural effects are assigned to her intercession.

In 1943, Kateri Tekakwitha was declared venerable by the Catholic Church, and was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. However, the Church needed a further confirmed true miracle to canonize her.

The miracle the Church wanted happened in 2006, when a five-year-old Seattle boy named Jake Finkbonner while playing basketball fell and cut his lip. Jake was in intensive care fighting a deadly flesh-eating bacterium that was cankering the skin on his face. Though the doctors tried various medications and surgeries, the infection on the little boy’s face continued to spread.

A local priest, Fr. Tim Sauer, knowing Jake was half Lummi Indian, asked his parishioners to pray to Kateri Tekakwitha to intercede for his recovery.

After three weeks, the infection stopped spreading and Jake recovered.

“I certainly believe in miracles,” said Dr. Hooper, one of the doctors who treated little Jake, while talking to CBC News, “It’s a different meaning for everyone. I’m just really happy when things work out well.”

Jake’s recovery was the proof that the Vatican needed.

On October 21, 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

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