St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the first Native American woman to be canonized. This was in 2012, the same year I joined the church with my ongoing attendance. It would be another two years before I came into full communion and participation.
There were many reasons that I was attracted to St. Kateri as I considered her among others while I discerned a confirmation name (ultimately choosing St. Elen of Caernarfon as many of you know).
I have always felt a connection to the Native American people and interested in their culture and spiritual practices. As kids our parents took us to the pow-wow out on Long Island with the Shinnecock Indians. It’s hard to live anywhere in New York State and not find nearby towns with Native names.
A gift from my friend in South Dakota. It is a dream catcher and it has helped me at times when I’ve had trouble sleeping. It is Native made near the sacred Black Hills.
Kateri was from nearby; just west of the Capital District. She was born in the village of Ossernenon, now known as Auriesville. The village is mapped out at the Martyrs Shrine. After a small pox epidemic killed her family and left her scarred, the remaining Mohawk burned the village and moved (as was done when a disease ran rampant through their homes).
They moved further west and to the other side of the river to what is now Fonda, above where the current Kateri Shrine is located in the village called Caughnawaga. The footprint of the village can be seen and can be reached either by car or by walking the trails to the village and the spring.
After recovering from small pox, she was left with little sight and marks on her face. She was mocked for how she looked, and she probably didn’t look as bad as they made her out to be. Kids (and adults) can be cruel and while not disfigured I felt that pain. She was also bullied and threatened for her Catholicism and her faith in Christ. Because of this bullying and in fear for her life after her conversion, she was sent to her mother’s people in Canada.
On a recent day of reflection (very recently – only a few days ago), I experienced one of those moments that defies explanation while I was holding her relic (pictured below), and praying a general intercession to St. Kateri and while I had already been planning this post for today’s feast day, that close moment made it a little more important to meet this deadline and its relevance in my life. I had not expected to feel the emotion that overcame me after praying over this relic.
Relic of St. Kateri. This is considered a first class relic and was prayed over a sick boy in 2006 who recovered almost immediately. After this miracle and subsequent testimony Kateri was canonized in 2012 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Last month, we had a mass and picnic at the St. Kateri Shrine in Fonda, New York. I tried to walk to her spring, something that has been on my wish list for a couple of years now. This is where she is said to have been baptized. The last time I attempted the hike was from the other side and it was in the fall. I had concerns about the wet leaves on the steep incline down and didn’t take the chance. I tried this time and gave it a good effort, and while I seemed to walk for longer, I just couldn’t do it. I don’t have the stamina. I thought I had gone about halfway, all uphill, but it turned out that I had probably gone about one quarter of the way.
Kateri’s Spring, Fonda, NY. (c)2021
I sent my kids on with a small bottle to collect some of the holy water from her spring. The bottle was still wet when they returned and the cool water was refreshing on my skin. I wouldn’t say that I collect holy water, but I do have a couple of bottles from wells I’ve visited and just having them in my possession and presence brings me peace. Much of that same peace can be found at the shrine as well as the other nearby one at Auriesville which is where Kateri was born and named Tekakwitha by her people, the Mohawk.
I had been hoping to visit her shrine in Canada where her body was moved to in 1717, and where it rests today. One of the oldest paintings of her, and this one by someone known to her in life was by Father Claude Chauchetière and hangs inside this shrine while a similar copy hangs in Fonda. Unfortunately it looks as though the Canadian border will remain closed. The shrine itself is closed to pilgrims until 2022 due to Covid precautions.
Nearby at the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria is a tomb at her original burial place with a bench for reflection where she died and had been buried from 1680 until 1717.
Each site has its own beauty and history in the life of Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks. I’d encourage visiting if you’re in the area or making a special pilgrimage. There is much to do in addition to the Kateri sites and shrines both in central New York, US and Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Some relevant links:
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha National Shrine and Historic Site, Fonda, NY
Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine: National Shrine of the North American Martyrs and Birthplace of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Canada National Saint Kateri Shrine, Saint Francis-Xavier Mission, Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada
Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Sainte-Catherine, Quebec, Canada (Kateri’s original burial place)