Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to have been beatified. Born in 1656 on the south bank of the Mohawk River near Auriesville, New York, Tekakwitha was the daughter of a non-Christian Mohawk chieftain and an Algonquin mother who was a Catholic convert, educated and baptized by French missionaries.
When Tekakwitha was four years old, a smallpox epidemic claimed the lives of her parents and baby brother. She survived the disease but her face was left severely scarred and her eyesight impaired.
At age 20, after having taken religious instruction at a nearby mission, Tekakwitha was baptized and given the name Kateri (Katherine). She vowed not to marry, which was considered aberrant in her tribal culture and created great difficulties for her. Kateri was persecuted by her fellow villagers for her faith.
A year later, finding the persecution unbearable, Kateri fled her village and walked 200 miles through forests, rivers and swamps to settle in a Christian mission in Sault St. Louis, near Montreal.
The remainder of her young life was dedicated to prayer and devotion to the Eucharist, teaching children at the mission and caring for the sick and the elderly. She died of an illness in 1680 when she was 24 years old.
A profound commitment to stewardship is revealed in a quote attributed to Kateri:
I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.
Kateri is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and devotion to her is responsible for establishing Native American ministries in Catholic churches throughout the United States and Canada.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and her feast day is July 14.
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