Celebration of St. Kateri Tekakwitha


Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend Mass at the St. Kateri Shrine in Fonda, New York. It was a dual celebration: today is ten years since the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. The celebration on October 9th was held on Indigenous Peoples Weekend, acknowledging the history and legacy of the Native peoples who were already living and thriving in the Americas at the time of Columbus’ landing in what is now the Bahamas.

It was a chilly, fall day with bright blue skies and vibrant, colorful leaves, mostly still waving from their branches. Mass was held outdoors in the pavilion, a roof the only cover from the elements. As mass is celebrated, an occasional breeze flutters in, and really reminds you of Creation and the Creator. I had time before the mass and so I wandered the grounds a bit, spent some quiet time in the candle chapel, contemplated the words of Handsome Lake, an Iroquois Prophet whose words appear in the Peace Grove; I made a small cross from sticks and twine, reminiscent of St. Kateri’s own according to the sign on the table.

But mostly, I simply settled in with a subdued awe in the anticipation of the mass, the quiet celebration of Kateri’s canonization and difficult life that she never shunned from nor complained about. My eyes were drawn constantly to the bright colors of the Native dress, the feathers adorning and the large eagle feathers carried and used for the Mohawk rituals.

Between the Greeting and the Liturgy of the Word was the Sweetgrass Blessing, the burning of plants and herbs, assisted in its smoking by the motion of the eagle feather. We were invited to proceed up, as if for communion to receive the smoke. I felt as though I was part of something bigger, something ancient, and of course, I was, and I felt honored and humbled to be there. The four sacred plants used in Mohawk ceremonies are cedar, tobacco, sweetgrass, and sage.

Throughout the mass whenever hymns or songs were presented they were by the Mohawk Choir of Akwesasne. I couldn’t understand the words but the meaning was clear. Their voices carried on the wind and through the chapel and transported me far away and very near.

Sister Kateri Mitchell, who played a part in the 2006 miracle for St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s elevation to sainthood was there to share the prayer of the faithful and to talk about the miracles associated with the saint. I have met her before and was happy to see her and talk to her briefly on this day.

Following the mass, there was the annual burning of the prayer petitions. The Bishop said the prayer over them and that concluded this remarkable day.

I have found that attending mass in other cultures deepens my own faith and commitment to my own prayer and meditations. I have included some links throughout this post in the hopes that you will read more about St. Kateri Tekakwitha and her people and their journeys.

The Lord's Prayer in the Mohawk Language

Takwaién:a karonhiá:ke tehsí:teronTakwaién:a karonhiá:ke tehsí:teron
Aiesawennaráhkhwake nonhwentsiá:ke
Tsi ní:ioht né karoniá:ke tiesawennaráhkhwa
Takwá:nont né kenwénte
Niationnhéhkwen, nia'tewenhniserá:ke
Sasa'nikónr:hen né ionkwarihwané:ren
Tsi ní:ioht ní:'i tsonkwa'nikór:henhs
Bothé:nen ionkhi'nikonhrasksá:tha nón:kwe.
Nok tóhsa aionkwa'shén:ni né karihwané:ren
Akwé:kon é:ren shá:wiht né io'taksens
Asekenh í:se sáwenhk né io'taksens
Asekenh í:se sáwenhk né kanakeráhsera'
Ka'shatstenhsera, kaia'tanehrakwáhtshera
Tsi nienhén:we e'thó naiá:wen

Native American Heritage Month (3)


Many people question why we need to focus on the diversity of our nation and celebrate heritage days and months; why can’t we simply celebrate our sameness as Americans.Also questioned is why we look back on the way we treated the indigenous peoples who were already here at our country’s very beginnings.

People want to forget the bad parts of our history.

The racist parts. The genocide. The meanness and the bigotry.

We can’t let those memories fade. They are a part of our history, and as we saw earlier in the year in British Columbia, Canada, it is part of the collective history of this continent.

While we were on vacation in August, we couldn’t help but notice the signs, the memorials for the two hundred fifteen First Nations children found in unmarked graves in Kamloops, British Columbia.

The articles read and linked below, as well as others were difficult enough to accept and they are still being processed emotionally by Native and non-Native peoples alike. However, happening upon one such memorial in Kanawake, the Mohawk tribal lands in southern Quebec tugged at emotions I was unaware of. The sight of the small shoes, representing the dead and unremembered 215 children, some as young as 3 was a lot to take in. It left me with a profound sadness, but also an emptiness that even the sadness couldn’t fill.

I leave you with links to read and photos to meditate on.

Horrible History: Mass Grave of Indigenous Children Reported in Canada

Canada Mourns as Remains of 215 chiildren found at indigenous school

A Burial Site for Indigenous Children was Found in Canada. Could it happen in the United States?

The emtpy shoes representing the 215 Indigenous children found in Kamloops. My presumption is that the ashes are from a First Nations religious ceremony in memory of the children. (c)2021
The above shoes can be seen at the St. Francis Xavier Mission in Kanawake, Quebec. This is also the site of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine where her body was brought. She is the first Native American Catholic saint. (c)2021
Signs we saw at various places across Quebec and Ontario, Canada. (c)2021

Native American Heritage Month (2)


When we travel to places with Native American distinction and I plan to buy something to remember my visit, I look to see if the object is Native made. There are so many knock-offs and items appropriated out there that I feel that if I’m going to buy Native crafts, symbols, and jewelry, it should be genuinely made by Native peoples and the income should benefit them.

The picture below highlights my three most recent crafts:


The photo on the left is a dream catcher. I have had one in my bedroom for decades. I had received a small one but it has been mislaid. I chose this one while we were in Montreal. I didn’t realize it at first but it is a necklace. I have hung it over the lamp on my bedstand to keep away bad spirits and dreams.

The top right is a simple lapel pin that I purchased at the St. Kateri Shrine in Fonda, New York. It is the flag of the Iroquois Confederation. These flags can be seen flying in many places across New York State and lower Canada.

The bottom right picture is a pair of earrings I discovered in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I was drawn several times to the three colors – the silver, the bronze, and the turquoise. While this design could easily be Native American jewelry or ancient Egyptian, and I was so happy to find that they were indeed Native made. As my birthstone is turquoise, I am often drawn to the stone and color.

Aloha Oe


I’ve been struggling with focus and writing and motivation. This includes my plans for Nanowrimo. I’m hoping that I will pick up the pen and get moving on my Nano projects. It’s only the first week, so it is not an impossible task.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading. A lot. Fifty-four books so far this year and two months left. My most recent book, Lost Kingdom: Hawai’i’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure by Julia Flynn Siler and it was eye-opening. Reading how Hawai’i sovereignty was overthrown against the wishes of the Native Hawaiians is something we should not forget, especially as we commemorate Native American Heritage Month this November.

The above title is the title of the famous song, which was written by Queen Lili’uokalani. I did not know this. In fact, she composed many songs that are still sung today.

In addition to the history lesson, the book did also inspire me to draw and I share that piece below:

Art inspired by Queen Lili’uokalani and the book, Lost Kingdom by Julia Siler.

The Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha


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.

Continue reading

Favorite Super Bowl 50 Ads


There didn’t seem to be a huge variety of commercials. Maybe it’s getting too expensive. I found the Amy Schumer, Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd commercial funny and the Hulk/Antman was also a good one. Esurance was also unexpected and funny. I’ve included my three favorites below.

Clever and unexpected from a local company in Upstate New York, Death Wish Coffee:

What I thought was the funniest ad, from Doritos:

This ad about Native Americans was touching and poignant, and thought-provoking. Please watch and share, Proud to Be:

St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Shrine


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:


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:


Bell Tower

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