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The Road to Sainthood of Mother Teresa of Calcutta


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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“If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness’. I will continually be absent from Heaven —to (light) the light of those in darkness on earth.”
– Prophetic words of Mother Teresa

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Born Agnes Bojaxhiu to an Albanian family in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Mother Teresa became world-famous for her devotion to the destitute and dying. The religious congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, she established in 1950, has more than 4,500 religious sisters around the world.

In 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize for her lifetime of service to humanity.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta died on September 5, 1997.

Scarcely two years after her death Monsignor Henry D’Souza, the then Archbishop of Calcutta, requested Pope John Paul II to dispense with the five-year waiting period required before beginning the process of beatifying and canonizing her.

Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., one of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, was appointed on March 9, 1999, as postulator (a person who presents a case for the canonization or beatification) of Mother Teresa’s cause.

The first session of the process of beatification leading to canonization took place at St. Mary Parish, in Rippon Lane, Calcutta, close to the Missionaries of Charity’s motherhouse.

As soon as the first stage of the process concluded on August 15, 2001, the second stage began in Rome.

Thirty-five thousand pages of documentation called the “Position” were collected in 2001 and 2002.

In the Catholic Church, humanitarian work alone is not sufficient enough for canonization as a saint. It is mandatory that a candidate for sainthood must be associated with at least two miracles to demonstrate that he or she, worthy of sainthood, must be in heaven, interceding with God on behalf of those in need of healing.

Robert Emmet Barron is an American prelate of the Catholic Church, author, theologian and evangelist, known for his Word on Fire ministry. As a frequent commentator on Catholicism and spirituality, he says:

“A saint is someone who has lived a life of great virtue, whom we look to and admire. But if that’s all we emphasize, we flatten out sanctity. The saint is also someone who’s now in heaven, living in this fullness of life with God. And the miracle, to put it bluntly, is the proof of it.”

In 2002, the Vatican officially recognised a miracle Mother Teresa was said to have carried out after her death in 1998. This miracle became the first milestone to sainthood of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Born and raised in Calcutta and a resident of the city during the period of Mother Teresa’s activity there, Aroup Chatterjee, a physician working in England authored the book Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict.

In the book Chatterjee challenges the widespread regard of Mother Teresa as a symbol of philanthropy and selflessness, accuses her of unfairly damaging the city’s reputation, that she exaggerated the work she did among the poor, that she failed to use the very large amount of money donated to her on helping the poor, and claims that the medical care given to people in homes run by Missionaries of Charity was grossly inadequate.

Channel 4, a British television channel aired a documentary named “Hell’s Angel” inspired by Chatterjee’s criticism. Christopher Hitchens, an Anglo-American author, social critic, journalist, and a well-known critic of Mother Teresa wrote and co-produced it with Tariq Ali.

In 2003, Aroup Chatterjee and Christopher Hitchens testified as two official hostile witnesses against the late nun as a so-called devil’s advocate to Church procedures for the beatification of Mother Teresa.

The miracle of curing the Bengali tribal woman was the first milestone to sainthood of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

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The First Miracle

Monica Besra at her village in West Bengal (Photo: Kallol Majumder-HT Photo)
Monica Besra at her village in West Bengal (Photo: Kallol Majumder-HT Photo)

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Monica Besra hails from a tribal community in Nakor village, in Dakshin Dinajpur district, 280 miles north of Kolkata in eastern India. Now she is 50 years old and a mother of five children.

About 15 to 17 years back she developed an abdominal tumour. She was taken to the nearby government hospital. The treatment for her ailment was expensive and her family had to mortgage their land. Even after undergoing a lengthy medication process she was so sick she could barely walk.

In 1998, when everything else failed, Monica’s sister took her to the then-recently-opened Missionaries of Charity centre near their village.

She was so ill she couldn’t eat anything. If she ate, she would immediately throw up.

The Sisters of Missionaries of Charity took her to a doctor in Siliguri who said that she might not regain consciousness if operated upon.

On September 4, 1998, a day before Mother Teresa’s first death anniversary, the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity took Monica to a small church in the premises to pray. As Monica was too ill to move, two Sisters supported her. There was a photograph of Mother Teresa there.

When she entered the Church a blinding light that emanated from Mother’s photo enveloped her. She did not know what was happening. The sisters prayed. Manica was too ill to sit for long and was soon brought back to her bed.

That night one of the Sisters after saying a prayer to Mother Teresa to help Monica get well soon tied a medallion of Mother Teresa on Monica’s abdomen.

After that, Monica who had trouble sleeping due to pain, fell asleep immediately. At about 1 AM she woke up to go to the bathroom. She was surprised to see her stomach was flat and the tumour was gone. She did not feel any pain. She went to the bathroom without help from anyone. When she returned from the bathroom, she woke up the woman sleeping in the adjacent bed and told her what had happened to her tumour.

In the morning MonicaI told the Sisters. and they took her to a doctor for a checkup. The doctor confirmed that she was cured of the tumour.

Back in 1998, Monica Besra’s claim of the miraculous cure by the intercession of the late Mother Teresa was, however, not without its detractors. The ‘miracle’ was hotly contested by doctors and rationalists alike. The doctors who had attended to her at the district hospital claimed that Monica was in fact cured because her tumour was detected at an early stage and by the medicines they gave her

Kolkata-based Prabir Ghosh, president of the Science and Rationalist Association of India, also challenged the miracle claims and the Canonization. He said:

“If people want to revere Mother Teresa for her social work, I have no problem. But these miracles are unreasonable. I challenge the Pope to cure every poor person in India who cannot afford medical care, by praying to Mother.”

Nonetheless, Monica Besra, her family members, and many others in her community firmly believe in the miracle and attend the local church regularly.

A board of medical specialists worked with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to study the alleged miracle. After combing the records and interviewing the medical staff involved, the committee determined that the healing was medically inexplicable.

As a first step towards sainthood, Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II approved the miraculous cancer cure that occurred on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, in a fast-tracked process on December 20, 2002, barely five years after Teresa’s death. About 300,000 pilgrims attended the beatification ceremony at St. Peter Square on October 19, 2003 (World Missions Day).

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The Second Miracle

Marcilio Haddad Andrino (Source: boqnews.com)
Marcilio Haddad Andrino (Source: boqnews.com)

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The second miracle that took place in December 2008 involves Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a now-42-year-old mechanical engineer from Santos, Brazil.

In 2008, the recently married 35-year-old Andrino was affected by a bacterial infection in the brain which caused severe brain abscesses and agonizing head pain.

A priest, a friend of his told Andrino and his wife, Fernanda Nascimento Rocha, to pray to Mother Teresa for help cure his ailment.

Andrino underwent medical treatment. When the treatments failed, he slipped into a coma. While Rocha prayed to Blessed Teresa, he was taken in for a last-ditch surgery.

When the surgeon entered the operating room, he found Andrino fully awake asking him what was going on.

Andrino made a full recovery. Now, the couple has two children. Even though it was deemed a near medical impossibility by doctors, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., the postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause, referred to their children as a second miracle.

In December 2015, in an interview with the press, Father Kolodiejchuk explained why there was a delay between 2008 and 2015 in reporting the second miracle.

According to Father Kolodiejchuk, the miracle happened in 2008, but he became aware of it only in 2013.

The neurosurgeon who attended on Andrino was not a Catholic. Somehow, after the visit of Pope Francis to Brazil, something prompted him to tell one of the priests of Santos. This news eventually made its way to Father Kolodiejchuk and the postulation office and started the chain of events.

A board of medical specialists worked with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to study the alleged miracle in Brazil. In September 2015, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints accepted the findings of the medical commission and presented the report to Pope Francis for his final approval. On December 17, 2015, the Holy Father officially recognized the second miracle that was needed for Mother Teresa to be canonized.

The Vatican scheduled September 4, 2016, the day before her 19th death anniversary, as the canonization date for Blessed Mother Teresa, who thereafter will be known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

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How Does One Become a Saint in the Catholic Church?


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Catholic Saints

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In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, or Anglican Church, Canonization is the act by which a person who has died is declared a saint. After that, their name is included in the canon – a list of recognized saints.

During the first millennium of the Church’s life, the first people honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s Canon of the Mass and since 1962, that of Saint Joseph was included.

Next, in the absence of a centralized canonization process, the local Church recognized holy men and women who demonstrated great virtue during their lifetime without any formal process or investigations into their personal life or any miracles attributed to their intercession.

Later on, different processes and procedures for canonization were developed such as those used today in Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. In both Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, the act of canonization is governed by the Holy See and a person is declared a saint at the conclusion of a long process that requires substantial proof of their worthiness to be recognized as a saint by their exemplary and holy way of living on this earth.

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Devil’s advocate and God’s advocate 

In 1587, during the reign of Pope Sixtus V, the office of the Devil’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus Diaboli) also known as the Promoter of Faith, was established. This canon lawyer appointed by the Church authorities argued against the canonization of a candidate by taking a skeptical view of the candidate’s character, uncovering any character flaws or misrepresentation of evidence such as fraudulent miracles attributed to the candidate, etc.

The Devil’s advocate opposed God’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus  Dei) also known as the Promoter of the Cause, whose task was to make the argument in favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.

Pope Paul VI beatified a total of 38 individuals during his pontificate and canonized 84 saints in 21 causes.

The work of simplification of canonization initiated by Pope Paul VI continued with Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of January 25, 1983, and the implementation of the norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on February 7, 1983, at the diocesan level.

Contrary to popular belief, the reforms did not eliminate the office of the Promoter of the Faith popularly known as the Devil’s advocate, whose duty was to question the material presented in favour of canonization. John Paul II reduced the number of miracles required for sainthood from three to two, one for the first stage — beatification — and one more for canonization. The reforms were intended to make the process less adversarial.

In November 2012 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Carmello Pellegrino to the office of Promoter of the Faith.

This reform by Pope John Paul II changed the canonization process considerably, helping John Paul II to usher in an unprecedented number of elevations: nearly 500 individuals were canonized and over 1,300 were beatified during his tenure as Pope as compared to only 98 canonizations by all his 20th-century predecessors.

In cases of controversy, the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization.

Candidates go through the following steps on their way to being declared saints.

Servant of God“: The process leading to canonization begins at the diocesan level. Responding to a petition by members of the faithful, a bishop with jurisdiction, usually the bishop of the place where the candidate died or is buried, gives permission to open an investigation into the virtues of the individual.  This investigation usually opens no sooner than five years after the death of the person being investigated.

Venerable/Heroic in Virtue“: After gathering sufficient information, the congregation will recommend to the pope to proclaim that the Servant of God exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree. From this point, the one said to be “heroic in virtue” is referred to by the title “Venerable”.

A Venerable has as yet no feast day and no churches may be built in his or her honour. Prayer cards and other materials may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by the venerable’s intercession as a sign of God’s will that the person can be canonized.

Blessed“: Beatification is a statement by the church that it is “worthy of belief” that the person is in heaven, having come to salvation. This step depends on whether the Venerable is a “martyr” or a “confessor”.

For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration or a certification that the venerable met death voluntarily as a witness for the faith and/or in an act of heroic charity for others.

All non-martyrs are “confessors” as they “confessed” or bore witness to their faith by the manner they lived their lives. To be named “Blessed” (abbreviated “Bl.”) or, in Latin, Beatus or Beata a miracle has to tale place as a sign that God performed the miracle in response to the venerable’s intercession. Today, these miracles are mostly miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church’s requirements for a “miracle”.

A feast day will be designated, but its observance is normally restricted to the Blessed’s home diocese, to certain locations associated with the blessed and/or to the churches or houses of the blessed’s religious order, if they belonged to one. Parishes may not normally be named in honour of a Blessed.

Saint“: Canonization is a statement by the church that the person enjoys the Beatific Vision. To be canonized a saint, an additional miracle after granting beatification must have been performed through the blessed’s intercession.

The saint (contracted “St” or “S.”) is assigned a feast day which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church, although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast. Parish churches may be built in the saint’s honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.

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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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The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha – the First North American Indian Saint: Part 4


 

Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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

Last moments of Kateri Tekakwitha

At the end of 1679, Kateri fell ill. Her afflictions increased day by day. Whenever she was able to leave her cabin, she would go to the chapel and rest on the benches and pray, and when she could support herself she would kneel before the altar.

During the Holy Week of 1680, Tekakwitha’s health was failing overcome by migraine headaches, fever and severe stomach pains accompanied with frequent vomiting.

On Tuesday, April 16, 1680, her friends knew she had, but a few hours left to live. They and the villagers gathered at the longhouse. Kateri was too weak to be moved to the chapel. Father Chauchetière and Cholenec hurried to the longhouse. Father Cholenec gave her Holy Viaticum. Until then, carrying the Blessed Sacrament to a longhouse was unheard of in the village for it was the custom for the sick to be carried on a board of bark to the chapel.

In the morning of Holy Wednesday, April 17, 1680, Kateri’s illness became worse and Father Cholenec administered the last rites – Extreme Unction.

Kateri Tekakwitha died around 3 pm in the arms of her friend Marie-Therèse. Father Chauchetière reports her final words were: “Jesos Konoronkwa” (“Jesus, I love you”).

Death of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha by Anne E. Neuberger)
Death of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha by Anne E. Neuberger)

After her death, the people noticed a physical change in her. Father Cholenec later wrote:

Then she had a slight spasm at the right side of her mouth. She died as if she was falling into a light sleep and we were for along time not certain of her death. Sometime before 4 o’clock, her face had suddenly changed and became in a moment so beautiful, smiling and white. Her face had an appearance of a rosy colour, which she never had and her features were not the same. I saw this immediately, because I was praying beside her and cried out for my astonishment. Her face was so scarred with smallpox from the age of four years old, and with her infirmities and mortification contributed to ruin her even more. And before her death she had taken a darken complexion. Her face appeared more beautiful than when she had been living. I will admit openly of the first thought, which came to me that Kateri might have entered into Heaven at this moment. After reflecting back in her chaste body a small ray of glory she had gone to possess.

The day Kateri died, the villagers passed it with an extraordinary devotion. Kateri’s simple compatriots kissed her hands and passed the evening and stayed the rest of the night near her to admire her face that exuded devotion even though her soul was separated from her.

They placed her body in the coffin with a cross in her hands. They did not cover her face until she was buried because of the pleasure people had looking at her.

Appearances after death

In the weeks after her death Kateri Tekakwitha has been said to have appeared before three persons: Kanahstatsi Tekonwatsenhonko (her mentor), Wari Teres Tegaiaguenta (her spiritual companion) and Father Claude Chauchetière.

Kanahstatsi said that, while crying over the death of her daughter, she looked up to see Catherine “kneeling at the foot” of her mattress, “holding a wooden cross that shone like the sun“.

Wari Teres reported that she was awakened at night by a knocking on her wall, and a voice asked if she were awake, adding, “I’ve come to say goodbye; I’m on my way to heaven.” Immediately, she went outside, but saw no one; then, she heard a voice murmur, “Adieu, Adieu, go tell the father that I’m going to heaven.

Chauchetière reported seeing Catherine at her grave; he said she appeared in “baroque splendour; for two hours he gazed upon her” and “her face lifted toward heaven as if in ecstasy.

Tomb of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: kateritekakwitha.org)
Tomb of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: kateritekakwitha.org)

Chauchetière had a chapel built near the site of her grave.

The settlers of New France spoke in whispers that a saint had been living among them. The Jesuits ground her bones to dust and placed it in the newly rebuilt mission chapel to symbolize her presence on earth. By 1684, pilgrims started coming to Kahnawake to honour Kateri Tekakwitha. Miracles were attributed to her intercession.

Kateri’s physical remains such as the crucifix she wore, the utensils she ate with, and even dirt from her grave, were all known to affect cures and were used as holy relics for healing.

Father Chauchetière was convinced that he had been in the presence of holiness. He told settlers in La Prairie to pray to Catherine for intercession with illnesses. He wrote the first of his many biographies of Kateri Tekakwitha in 1695. He was followed in 1696 by the equally prolific Father Pierre Cholenec. Through their writing, the legend of Kateri Tekakwitha, the Miracle Worker of the New World, reached across the sea to France and from there to the Vatican. Even the Jesuits in China and their converts, came to know about Kateri’s fame through Father Chauchetière’s writings. At least 300 books have been published in more than 20 languages on the life of Kateri Tekakwitha based on the accounts written by the two Jesuit priests who knew her.

The Jesuits ground her bones to dust and placed it in the newly rebuilt mission chapel to symbolize her presence on earth. Her physical remains were sometimes used as holy relics for healing.

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. Religious images of Tekakwitha are often decorated with a lily and the cross, with feathers or turtle 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 have taken her to heart and 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.

The Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha

After her death, Tekakwitha became an honorary yet unofficial patroness of Montreal, Canada, and Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

The process for Tekakwitha’s canonization was initiated by the United States Catholics at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884. It was followed by the Canadian Catholics.

On January 3, 1943, Pope Pius XII declared her venerable.

She was beatified as Catherine Tekakwitha on June 22, 1980, by Pope John Paul II.

On December 19, 2011, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints certified a second miracle through her intercession, signed by Pope Benedict XVI, that paved the way for her canonization.

On February 18, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI decreed the canonization of that Tekakwitha. Speaking in Latin, he used the form “Catharina Tekakwitha” while the official booklet of the ceremony referred to her in English and Italian, as “Kateri Tekakwitha”.

Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. In the official canonization rite booklet, “Catherine” is used in the English and French biographies and “Kateri” in the translation of the rite itself.

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.

 

← Previous – 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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