St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Shrine

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We’re reminded throughout the year and the Liturgical calendar of many of the saints through their feast days. Recently, we’ve observed Sts. Simon and Jude, the North American Martyrs and Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II.

Today is All Saints’ Day; that day on the calendar that honors all the saints. Although not today, it is often a holy day of obligation where Catholics are expected to attend Mass. I did attend this morning, and since there is no specific saint mentioned it is a good time to remember the saints that are important to us.

The saint I chose for my confirmation name is St. Elen (of Caernarfon). I wrote about her back when I was going through my sacraments.

Last week was my annual fall retreat, and today I get to tell you about one of the unexpected directions I was sent on during that week: the National Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

She was one of the three saints I considered for my confirmation before I was finally led to St. Elen.

I contemplated having St. Kateri because:

  1. She was local,
  2. She was Native American, and
  3. Her name began with a K like mine.

When I read her story what stood out to me was how she was the only Christian among her relatives, and that struck a chord with me during my conversion. I was the only one moved to follow Jesus Christ, and so was the only one talking about Scriptural things. Obviously, I wasn’t trying to convert my family, but that single similarity stayed with me.

At four, Kateri lost her immediate family to a small pox outbreak. She had contracted the virus, and was left scarred by her illness. Upon her death, witnesses say her scars disappeared.

She appeared to three people in the days after her death, and one year later, she appeared again to Father Chauchetière who painted what is considered the oldest portrait of the saint:

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Two of the four National Shrines that honor St. Kateri are in two small nearby villages in upstate New York about a five hour drive south from her burial place in Quebec.

I had heard of Kateri before I became a Catholic, but really only knew that she had been beatified and her place was local. I’ve had a strong connection to Native Americans since I was a child. I think I find myself drawn to cultures other than my own. I had just begun attending Mass when Kateri was canonized in 2012. I received a wallet card from the Shrine as they celebrated her canonization and our whole Diocese celebrated, and I’ve carried that with me since that day in October.

That day in October also held an unrelated significance for me as well: it was the original due date of my middle child, who decided to be two weeks early, lucky for both of us since as it was, the day he was born I was in labor for two days, unbeknownst to me.

I had no intention of traveling to a saint’s shrine on my retreat, but when I glanced at a map and saw how close it was to where I had been on Saturday, I realized that I didn’t have many opportunities to visit something so significant, and since she did have some inspiration for me, I was excited to go once it had been pointed out to me.

It was raining when I got there, so I browsed around the gift shop until it was a light enough mist for me to walk around. The buildings of the shrine close this weekend for the winter (because none of the buildings have heat), so my timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I plan to return when they have one of their events through the spring and summer.

I wandered through the museum first and then upstairs to St. Peter’s Chapel, which is a commemoration to the chapel that Kateri was baptized in. The nearby spring that was used to baptize her (and other converts at that time) still flows. Visitors claim healings and cures after drawing from the holy spring and praying for intercession by St. Kateri.

She lived in the village up the hill for most of her life. It is currently the only completely excavated Iroquois site in the country. Although the area had a history, it hadn’t been a shrine to her until Pope St. John Paul II beatified her in 1980.

The air was cool, the mist was wet and the sky was grey. I hadn’t realized until last week how much that type of weather is my weather. Very often I talk about my trip to Wales; more like pilgrimage, and when something reminds me of Wales, it is much more than the anecdote of a week’s vacation. There are so many non-religious, spiritual things associated with the simple phrase, it reminds me of Wales.

The fact that walking around the wet grass, seeing the bright yet muted oranges and reds against the greens, browns and greys as light played off the puddles was so reminiscent of my Wales that I had to sit and catch my breath. I was also moved to sit for quite a while in the chapel reading James Martin’s second prayer. The spirit was truly with me on this day. It was the perfect reading for the place; a perfect place to meditate on the Gospel, on Fr. Martin’s reflections, and to feel my own.

I walked.

I sat.

I prayed.

I meditated.

It was very consoling; reassuring of all that is right in the world.

It was exceptionally reflective and it gave me the impulse and the space to be reflective.

It reminded me of why I became a Catholic as well as why I became a writer. Both are similar answers even though they don’t come easily to the conscious mind: I can’t be anything else. Neither was anything that I was looking for, but instead they found me. Both are faith driven, both are involuntary, instinctive, and they both need caring to keep them potent.

Let me share the beauty of St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Shrine with you:

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