St. Kateri Tekakwitha, or the Lily of the Mohawks, is a very important person for American Catholicism. Here are some facts about her, sure to make you wonder how you didn’t know her so well already.
1. She’s the first Native American to be canonized
She’s the fourth to be venerated in the Catholic Church but the first to be canonized. This is an incredible thing! It shows how Catholicism is truly for all people, universal, and that no one is outside of salvation.
2. Kateri is the Mohawk form of Catherine
It’s so good that we still honor her Mohawk heritage and call her by her baptismal name in her native language. Again, it’s a testament that Catholicism is for every people everywhere.
3. Her baptismal saint is Catherine of Siena
When she was learning about Catholicism, she fell in love with St. Catherine of Siena, impressed by her particular faith. Hence, she chose her namesake.
4. Tekakwitha has a less than stellar meaning
In Mohawk, it means “she who bumps into things.” In a way, this name was sort of prophetic because she kind of “bumped into” Catholicism. Also, it’s not her last name, just her given first name.
5. She was an orphan
Her parents and baby brother died in a smallpox epidemic that ravaged their tribe. She also had contracted smallpox but survived, although it left her face incredibly disfigured and her eyesight and health weakened. Kateri was raised by relatives.
6. The Jesuits converted her
They came to her encampment as part of a treaty that the Mohawk people were forced into, but the Jesuits never forced any of them to convert. In fact, the Jesuits learned the native languages and religion and translated Catholic prayers and ideas into these languages to help the Native Americans understand. This is what St. John Paul II meant by inculturation!
7. She mortified her flesh regularly
It is said that she put thorns on her sleeping mat and would lay on them while praying for her family’s conversion and forgiveness. Piercing the body and drawing blood was a traditional Mohawk practice, but she brought it into the realm of the Catholic faith, using it to get herself and her loved ones closer to God. She also ate little and burned herself in solidarity with and reparation for the treatment of prisoners (burning was a regular punishment given to prisoners).
8. She wanted to start a religious order for Native American women
She, her mentor Anastasia, and best friend Marie-Thérèse wanted to start this after they learned about religious orders. Shortly after, Indigenous women began to be admitted into religious orders. Kateri never formally joined one but vowed perpetual virginity
9. After her death, her smallpox scars vanished!
Witnesses said her face became more beautiful than ever and the scars completely disappeared!
10. Her patronage is super cool
Kateri is the patron saint of ecology and the environment due to her closeness with nature and understanding it as a supreme gift from God. It is also proposed that she be named patron saint of the Americas.
Happy feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha!
Featured image: Wikimedia commons.