The first Native American saint was born in 1656 in what is now Auriesville, NY. Her mother was a Christian Algonquin, who was captured by the Mohawks and who took a Mohawk chief for her husband. During the smallpox outbreak, which killed her entire family, Kateri was four-year-old. It scarred her skin and also effected her eyesight. So she was named “Tekakwitha”, which means “she who bumps into things”. Orphaned, she was then taken in and raised by her uncle, who was the chief of a Mohawk clan.
Kateri was known as a skilled worker, who was diligent and patient. However, she refused to marry when her adoptive parents proposed a suitor to her. They punished her by giving her more work to do, but she did not give in. Instead, she remained quiet and hard working. Eventually they were forced to relent and accept that she had no interest in marriage.
At age 19, she converted to Catholicism, the religion of her mother. She took the name Kateri, which is Catherine in Mohawk. She also took a vow of chastity and pledging to marry only Jesus Christ. Her decision was very unpopular with her people. To avoid persecution, she traveled to a Christian native community south of Montreal.
Kateri was very devout and was known for her steadfast devotion. The smallpox also left her very sickly. Her practices of self-mortification and denial did not help her health. Only five years after her conversion to Catholicism, she became ill and passed away at age 24, on April 17, 1680. Immediately after her death, the smallpox scars disappeared and her skin became beautiful.
She was beatified on June 22, 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012. She is the patroness of Native Americans, the environment, people in exile and ecology. Her Feast Day in the United States is July 14.
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