Tag Archives: Jacques de Lamberville

The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha – the First North American Indian Saint: Part 3


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Source: thehundreds.com)
Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Source: thehundreds.com)

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The Jesuit mission of Saint-François-Xavier du Sault-Saint-Louis

Father de Lamberville advised Kateri Tekakwitha to go to the Jesuit settlement of Saint-François-Xavier du Sault-Saint- Louis located along the St. Lawrence river in Quebec, Canada, opposite Lachine (later Montréal).

The historic mission was first established in 1667 when the Kanienkeha’ka (Mohawk) community located to the northern part of the Territory at Kentake, now known as Laprairie, Quebec. The community moved four more times due to economic, agricultural as well as political changes.

A typical Mohawk Longhouse
A typical Mohawk Longhouse

The Jesuits had founded the mission for the religious conversion of the natives. When it began, the natives built longhouses for residences. They also built a longhouse to be used as a chapel by the Jesuits. As a missionary settlement, it attracted other Iroquois, but it was predominantly Mohawk.

In 1677, Kateri was spirited away from the Mohawk the village of Caughnawaga by her brother-in-law and a Huron of Lorette with the assistance of Father de Lamberville. Kateri and her rescuers proceeded on foot to Lac du Saint-Sacrement (Lake George). After a long and harrowing journey , of about two weeks on the Lake George, Lake Champlain, and Richelieu River corridors, they completed their 200-mile journey and reached the mission. In all it took almost three months for the whole journey.

On arrival after the long and harrowing journey, Kateri was lodged in the longhouse where her mother’s close friend, Kanahstatsi Tekonwatsenhonko, was the clan matron. Her sister (the daughter of her adoptive parents) and her brother-in-law, and many other people who had migrated from Caughnawaga lodged in the same longhouse.

In the village, she found many Iroquoian-speaking Mohawk converts and the Jesuits whom she had met in 1666.

Kanahstatsi and other Mohawk women introduced Kateri to the regular practices of Christianity. She spent hours in prayer in the chapel.

Kateri Tekakwitha. An oil painting by an unknown artist in the Main Chapel, St. Peter's Mission, Fonda NY.
Kateri Tekakwitha. An oil painting by an unknown artist in the Main Chapel, St. Peter’s Mission, Fonda NY.

Kateri made her first communion on Christmas Day 1677. She spent hours in prayer in the chapel. During the winter hunting season she continued her pious exercises while taking part in the work of the community, and she created a place of worship near a cross carved on a tree beside a brook.

Corporal mortification

According to the historian Allan Greer, most of these early native converts to Christianity were women. They followed a way they thought was integral to Christianity by devoting their bodies and souls to God and participated in mortification of the flesh in groups. There were similar practices of mortification of the flesh traditionally carried out by Mohawk warriors. Piercing the body to draw blood was a traditional practice of the Mohawk and other Iroquois nations.

Though the women in the village usually followed the directions of the Jesuits, at times, they eluded their control. The Jesuits opposed the practice of mortification of the flesh, but the women claimed it was needed to relieve them of their past sins.

Kateri learned more about Christianity under her mentor Anastasia, who taught her about the practice of repenting for one’s sins. Kateri put thorns on her sleeping mat and lay on them while praying for the conversion and forgiveness for her kinsmen.

Two French Jesuit missionaries, Claude Chauchetière and Pierre Cholenec, played important roles in Kateri Tekakwitha’s life.

Father Pierre Cholenec arrived in New France in 1672, before Father Claude Chauchetière.

Father Claude Chauchetière and Tekakwitha arrived at the village in the same year, in 1677. Jesuits generally thought that the natives needed their guidance in Christianity to be set on the right path. However, Chauchetière’s close contact with and deeper knowledge of the natives in the village changed some of his set notions about the people and the differences among human cultures.

Father Chauchetière was the first to write a biography of Kateri Tekakwitha’s life in 1695, followed by Father Pierre Cholenec in 1696.

Father Chauchetière wrote that he was very impressed by Kateri, as he had not expected a native to be so pious. He believed that Catherine Tekakwitha was a saint. In his biography of her, he stressed her “charity, industry, purity, and fortitude.”

Father Chauchetière recounted the steps Kateri and some of her peers took in the name of their faith. Their mortifications were extreme, and Chauchetière says:

They covered themselves with blood by disciplinary stripes with iron, with rods, with thorns, with nettles; they fasted rigorously, passing the entire day without eating. These fasting women toiled strenuously all day – in summer, working in the fields; in winter, cutting wood. (…) they put glowing coals between their tows, where the fire burned a hole in their flesh; they went bare-legged to make a long procession in the snows; they all disfigured themselves by cutting off their hair, in order not to be sought in marriage…

Kateri Tekakwitha took a vow of chastity on the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, 1679. The Roman Catholic Church considers that on this day her conversion was truly completed and she became the “first virgin” among the Mohawk.

Father Cholenec introduced the traditional items of Catholic mortification – whips, hair shirts and iron girdles – to the converts at the village so they would adopt these items, rather than use Mohawk practices.

Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York.
Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York.

Father Cholenec quotes Kateri Tekakwitha as saying:

I have deliberated enough. For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made. I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary, I have chosen Him for husband and He alone will take me for a wife”.

In the spring of 1678, Kateri met Wari Teres Tegaiaguenta, a young Oneida widow, for the first time. They became inseparable friends. Aspiring to devotion, they practiced mutual flagellation in secret.

Father Cholenec wrote that Catherine could flog herself between one thousand and twelve hundred blows in one session.

Tekakwitha’s dedication to the ritual mortification became more intense and consuming over the rest of her life; she included prolonged fasting, flogging, cutting, sleeping on a bed of thorns, and burning herself with hot coals.

Her spiritual directors became concerned because of her practice of self-mortifications were impacting her health and advised her to lighten the rigorous devotion. Father Cholenec suggested that she retire to the wilderness with her relations who were then engaged in the winter hunt to restore her strength, with proper diet and the fresh air in the forest.

But she replied:

It is true, my Father, that my body is served most luxuriously in the forest, but the soul languishes there, and is not able to satisfy its hunger. On the contrary, in the village the body suffers; I am contented that it should be so, but the soul finds its delight in being near to Jesus Christ. Well then, I will willingly abandon this miserable body to hunger and suffering, provided that my soul may have its ordinary nourishment.”

When Kateri and Wari Teres learned of nuns and convents for women, they asked the Jesuits for permission to form a group of native disciples, but they were told they were too “young in the faith” to form such a group. So, they created their own informal association of devout women. Wari Teres eventually left the group, supposedly due to personal issues. Kateri tried to reintegrate her into the group until her death.

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The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha – the First North American Indian Saint: Part 2


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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The oldest portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha is an oil painting on canvas 41 x 37" painted by Father Chauchetière between 1682-1693. Kateri appeared to him during that time. The original painting hangs in the sacristy of St. Francis Xavier Church on the Kanawaké Mohawk Reservation on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, near Montréal, Québec.
The oldest portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha is an oil painting on canvas 41 x 37″ painted by Father Chauchetière between 1682-1693. Kateri appeared to him during that time. The original painting hangs in the sacristy of St. Francis Xavier Church on the Kanawaké Mohawk Reservation on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, near Montréal, Québec.

Invasions by the French

In the mid 15th century, the Mohawk interacted with both Dutch and French colonists. Originally, the Dutch, who had settled in Albany and Schenectady traded fur with the Mohawk while the French traded with the Huron.

In 1666, when Tekakwitha was around ten years old, the French trying to make inroads into Iroquois territory in present-day central New York, attacked the Mohawk, and after driving the people from their the longhouses and wigwams they burned all three Mohawk villages and their corn and squash fields.

During the skirmish, the Mohawks took refuge in the forest. Little Tekakwitha spent the cold winter in the forest along with her aunt’s family.

After the defeat by the French forces, the Mohawk was forced to accept a peace treaty that required them to accept Jesuit missionaries, whom they called “Black Robes,” in their villages for converting them to Christianity. The Jesuits established the mission of Saint-Pierre de Gandaouagué on the north shore of the Mohawk River and quickly studied Mohawk and other native languages to reach the people and taught them Christianity using terms the natives could easily identify.

Tekakwitha went with her people to the mission of Saint-Pierre de Gandaouagué. She was impressed by the courteous manners and the piety of the Jesuit missionaries she met for the first time.

The Mohawk crossed the Mohawk River to rebuild Caughnawaga on the north bank

In 1667, Tekakwitha met the Jesuits Jacques Frémin, Jacques Bruyas, and Jean Pierron, who had come to the village. But, her uncle opposed any contact with them because he did not want her to convert to Christianity since one of his daughters had already left Caughnawaga to go to the Iroquois Catholic mission village near Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

The records of Jesuits who knew Tekakwitha describe her as a modest, shy girl who avoided social gatherings, and wore a blanket over her head to cover the pockmarks on her face. She learned the traditional way of making clothing and belts from animal skins; weaving mats, baskets and boxes of reeds and grasses; preparing food from the game, crops and gathered produce. She took part in the women’s seasonal planting and intermittent weeding.

Although small-pox had marked her face and seriously impaired her eyesight, her aunts started pressurizing her to marry, even at the young age of 13. As she grew older, she shrank from marriage with great aversion.

In the summer of 1669, a band of several hundred Mohican warriors, advancing from the east attacked the village of Caughnawaga. The Mohawks fought off the invaders who kept the village under siege for three days. Tekakwitha along with other girls of the village carried food and water to the defending warriors on the palisades. They also helped the Jesuit priest Jean Pierron who tended to the wounded, and buried the dead.

When reinforcements arrived from other Mohawk villages the Mohican warriors retreated. The Mohawk villagers led by chief Ganeagowa, pursued the Mohicans in the forest, killing over 80 and capturing several others. When the Mohawks returned to Caughnawaga amidst widespread celebration, they tortured the captive Mohicans – thirteen men and four women – for two days and had planned to kill them on the third. Father Jean Pierron who was tending to the captives also, implored the Mohawk to stop the torture, but they ignored his plea. He then instructed the captives in Catholic doctrine as best he could and baptized them before they died under torture.

The Iroquois Feast of the Dead

In late 1669, the Iroquois Feast of the Dead, held every ten years, was convened at Caughnawaga. It was the Mohawk custom to carefully exhume the cadavers of those who had died in the previous decade, so that their souls could be released to wander to the spirit land.

A few Oneidas and Onondagas came to attend the feast led by sachem Garakontié.

Father Pierron who was present in the village boldly censured the beliefs and logic of the Feast of the Dead. The assembled Iroquois, upset over his remarks, ordered him to be silent. But Father Pierron continued, exhorting the Iroquois to give up their “superstitious” rites. Under duress, Father Pierron left the gathering, but returned along with Garakontié, the Onondaga sachem. Under Garakontié’s protection Pierron finished his speech. He demanded that, to secure a continued friendship with the French, the Iroquois should give up their Feast of the Dead, their faith in dreams as a guide to action, and the worship of their war-god. Eventually, the assembled Iroquois relented. Exchanging gifts with Father Pierron, they promised to give up the customs and rituals he had denounced.

Sachem Garakontié himself later became a Christian.

Family urges Tekakwitha to marry

Around 1674, when Tekakwitha turned 17, her adoptive parents, and other relatives became concerned over her lack of interest in young men as romantic partners or potential husbands. They urged Tekakwitha to marry a young Mohawk warrior. When she refused to marry the man chosen for her, she incurred the family’s displeasure, ridicule, threats, and harsh workloads. But Tekakwitha stayed firm in her resolution of resisting marriage, while submitting to their work demands.

Conversion and Baptism

In the spring of 1675, when she was about 18, Tekakwitha met the Jesuit priest Jacques de Lamberville. He taught her catechism.

A log beam across the ceiling of the church at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha,  Fonda, New York (Source: tenkidsandadog.blogspot.in)
A log beam across the ceiling of the church at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Fonda, New York (Source: tenkidsandadog.blogspot.in)

Convinced that Tekakwitha was ready for true conversion, Father de Lamberville baptized her on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1676, and gave her the name “Catherine” after St. Catherine of Sienna. The Victorian author Ellen Hardin Walworth conceived the alternate name “Kateri” which was first used in 1891.

Tekakwitha’s family opposed her conversion to Catholicism and continued to persecute her. They deprived her of food because she did not want to work on Sundays. People threw stones at her when she went to the chapel to pray. Some Mohawks accused her of sorcery and sexual promiscuity.

 Previous – The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha – Part 1 

Next  The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha: Part 3

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