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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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Next  The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha: Part 4

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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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The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha – the First North American Indian Saint: Part 1


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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I am a flower of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.
Like a lily among thorns, so is my friend among women.
Song of Songs 2:1-2

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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)

Preface

July 14, is the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first North American declared a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church, and the fourth Native American to be declared a saint after St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin 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, south of Montreal in New France, now Canada.

Kateri Tekakwitha died on April 17, 1680, aged 24, at Caughnawaga, Canada. It is alleged that after her death, the scars on her face cleared. Various miracles and supernatural effects are assigned to her intercession.

Kateri Tekakwitha’s extraordinary life and reputation for piety have made her an icon to the native Roman Catholics of North America.

In 1943,  the Catholic Church declared Kateri Tekakwitha as venerable. In 1980, Pope John Paul II beatified her, and on October 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized her at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

According to one of her biographers, no other native American’s life has been more fully documented that of Kateri Tekakwitha. At least three hundred books have been published in more than twenty languages based on the writings of French Jesuit missionaries, such as Claude Chauchetière, Pierre Cholenec, and others who knew her personally.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha - The Lily of the Mohawks
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha – The Lily of the Mohawks

Because of her singular life of chastity, she is often associated with the lily flower, a traditional symbol of purity among Roman Catholics and one often used for the Virgin Mary.

The fleur-de-lys is a heraldic symbol of the French monarchy. Four lilies are depicted in the flag of Quebec. The French associated Kateri with the lily.

It was Father Claude Chauchetière who first evoked the lily metaphor when he wrote,

I have up to the present written of Katharine as a lily among thorns, but now I shall relate how God transplanted this beautiful lily and placed it in a garden full of flowers, that is to say, in the Mission of the Sault, where there have been, are, and always will be holy people renowned for virtue. 

Religious images of Tekakwitha are often  adorned with a lily and the cross. Feathers and turtle are incorporated as cultural accessories.

Colloquial terms for Tekakwitha are The Lily of the Mohawks, the Mohawk Maiden, the Pure and Tender Lily, the Flower among True Men, the Lily of Purity and The New Star of the New World.

Kateri Tekakwitha’s tribal neighbors praised Kateri Tekakwitha as “the fairest flower that ever bloomed among the red men.” Now, reverence of Kateri Tekakwitha transcends tribal differences. Indigenous North American Catholics identify themselves with her by portraying her in their art, and in their own traditional clothing.

Many consider her virtues as an ecumenical bridge between Mohawk and European cultures.

In Canada, the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is celebrated on April 17.

The Story of Saint  Kateri Tekakwitha 

Portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha, painted by Kevin Gordon
Portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha, painted by Kevin Gordon

Weskarini, an Algonquin tribe, known as Petite Nation des Algonquins (Little Nation of the Algonquin), lived on the north side of the Ottawa River below Allumettes Island (Morrison’s Island), Québec, New France. They had close associations with the Jesuit missionaries.

In March 1643, Jeanne Mance, a French nurse at the Hôtel-Dieu in Montréal took care of Pachirini Sachem Carolus, a wounded young Algonquin warrior. Sachem baptized on April 2, 1643, in Montréal by Father Imbert Duperon. He was given the Christian name of Charles. He lived in Montréal for some time with the two Jesuits of the post. Most of the Weskarini Algonquin became Catholics, being baptized between 1643 and 1650 by the Jesuits in Montréal and the rest later at Trois-Rivières. They settled in Trois-Rivières, setting up their village near the Fort there. While his fellow tribesmen left for Trois-Rivières, Charles Pachirini led the Jesuits to explore the shore that was later to become Laprairie (a Jesuit mission).

Prior to 1648, Charles Pachirini rejoined his people at Trois-Rivières and became the captain of the Christian Algonquins, even during the lifetime of his discredited predecessor Paul Tessouhat II, the chief of the Kichesipirini, or Algonquins of Allumette Island. He was given a Fiefdom in Trois-Rivières.

This was a time when the Iroquois were at war with the Algonquin.

Earlier, on October 18, 1646, near the village named Ossernenon also known as Gandaouge, Gandawaga and Caughnawaga in the Iroquois Confederacy in New France (present-day Auriesville, New York) the Iroquoi Mohawks killed Saint Isaac Jogues, a Jesuit missionary and threw his body in the St. Lawrence River.

Around 1652-1653, Mohawks of Ossernenon raided the town of Trois-Rivières and the Algonquin village of Sachem Charles Pachirini.

When the Mohawks attacked the area, the women and children sought shelter in the Fort while the braves joined the soldiers in repelling the attack. The raiding party killed many braves and soldiers defending the fort and the Indian village of the Weskarini. They also abducted French and Algonquin children and women. It became the norm to take the women and children of the defeated with them as prisoners and subsume them into their fold.

One of the abducted women Kahontáke (Meadow) or Kahenta also known as Tagaskouita, was an Algonquin, a member of the Weskarini Band of Sachem Carolus Pachirini. She had been baptized and educated among the French in Trois-Rivières. She married Kenneronkwa, an Iroquoi Mohawk warrior. Around 1656, Kahontáke gave birth to a girl at the Turtle Castle of Ossernenon, in the village of Ossernenonon on the banks of the Mohawk River. According to some authorities the child was born in the village of Gandaouge.

Catherine Tekakwitha, so renowned today in New France for the extraordinary marvels that God has bestowed and continues to bestow through her intercession, was born an Iroquois in 1656 in a Mohawk village called Gahnaougé. Her mother, an Algonquin, had been baptized and educated among the French in Trois-Rivières. She was seized there by the Iroquois with whom we were at war at that time, and taken as a slave to their homeland. She lived there and after a little while was married to a native of the place, and had two children: a son, and a daughter, Catherine.” From Catherine Tekakwitha, Fr. Pierre Cholenec, S.J., Her Spiritual Advisor.  (Translated by William Lonc, S.J., 2002)

During the years 1661 and 1662, the Mohawk suffered from a smallpox epidemic, the disease brought to the Americas by the Europeans. The disease devastated the village of Ossernenon, causing the death of most of the villagers. Kenneronkwa, his wife, and baby son succumbed to the disease. However, his daughter survived the catastrophe with damaged eyesight and pockmarks on her face. She was adopted by her father’s sister and her husband, a chief of the Turtle Clan, and raised as one of his daughters. The chief was a great foe of the Roman Catholic missionaries from France in the area.

Shortly afterwards, the survivors of the smallpox epidemic of the village of Ossernenon built a new village at the top of a hill, a mile or two west up the Mohawk River along its southern bank and called it Caughnawaga (“at the wild water”).

Because of her weakened eyes, the girl had trouble seeing in front of her, especially in the sunshine. Her uncle and aunts named her “Tekakwitha” meaning “she who feels her way ahead.”

Next  The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha: Part 2

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