The Canadian Saints
BLESSED KATERI TEKAKWITHA 1656 – 1680
Kateri’s mother, Kahenta, was an Algonquin who had been captured by the Mohawks some time before Kateri was born. Kahenta had been a practising Catholic at the time of her capture and possibly taught Kateri how to pray through her words, prayers and actions.
In 1659, when Kateri was four years old, the dreaded smallpox disease swept through the village leaving her mother, father, and baby brother dead. Kateri also caught the terrible disease and because of it, she was pockmarked and half blind for the rest of her life. Two aunts and her Uncle Onsegongo adopted Kateri and another little girl. Because of her pockmarked face and near-sightedness, Kateri lived separately from the other Indians. After the smallpox disease hit the village, the Mohawks moved a mile west, and here Kateri lived until she was eleven years old.
The French were tired of the bloody attacks of the Mohawks, and their frequent raids into New France, (Canada). So in 1666, they sent their best troops under General de Tracy to strike down the Iroquois once and for all. Kateri’s people were taken by surprise and fled fourteen miles west to Tionnontoguen, a hill just west of what is now Fonda, New York.
Finally peace had come. Fathers Pierron, Fremin, and Bruyas were the first missionaries welcomed in the village. Slowly the Catholic faith took root. At first, eighty of the four hundred villagers became Catholics, and then gradually more Mohawks became Catholics. Many of them went to Caughnawaga, four miles from Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, in New France. Caughnawaga was better known as the “Praying Castle”.
Tionnontoguen is where Kateri got her first glimpse of the Catholic Faith. She would look into the St. Peter’s Chapel to see the nativity set at Christmas time and hear the children’s choir.
In her daily life, Kateri learned how to sew and embroider and became an expert at sewing beads, belts, moccasins and leggings. She was a good, obedient and happy girl. But Kateri stayed away from men; she did not want to get married but wanted to remain a virgin.
Father de Lamberville arrived at the village in the fall of 1675. One day God led him to the cabin where Kateri was nursing a sore foot. In spite of the fact that there were several other people in the cabin with her, Kateri poured out her heart to the priest. And she told him that she wanted to learn more about prayer and to be baptized. Fr. de Lamberville was indeed surprised at the girl’s request, but he also sensed that she was a very good soul. He said, “You will have to face many difficulties and you will have to be very brave to live in a village full of temptations.”
To this Kateri answered, “I’ve made my decision Father, and nothing, not even exile or flight, will make me change my mind.”
Then the good priest promised to teach her about the Catholic Faith and invited her to come to the catechism classes.
Great care had to be used in accepting new people for the Catholic Faith, and two years was the minimum trial period. But after one month, Fr. de Lamberville decided that Kateri was ready for baptism. He also asked Kateri’s people if she had been a good girl, and they all agreed to this except that she had refused to get married. Now the priest knew that he could proceed so Easter Sunday, April 5, 1676, was set aside as Kateri’s baptism day. On that day when Fr. de Lamberville poured the saving waters of baptism over Kateri, only God knew how generously this twenty year old girl would give herself to Him for the rest of her life.
Kateri had many crosses to bear after her baptism. Her family was opposed to her and her Catholic practises. Her repeated refusal to marry was held against her. Kateri would not work on Sundays and because of this her aunts said, “If you won’t work, you won’t eat!” Her father begged other men to make her fall into sins of impurity.
A young brave threatened to kill her with his tomahawk if she did not give up her Catholic Faith, but she was so calm that he dropped his tomahawk and fled. Children teased her and threw stones at her.
But worst of all, her aunt told Fr. de Lamberville that Kateri had committed a sin of impurity. Poor Kateri was so tormented by all these things that she ran to Fr. de Lamberville for help. The good missionary told Kateri, “You must leave this country as soon as possible and go to the “Praying Castle” in New France.” But how was the young maid to flee from the village without anyone seeing her? Her Uncle Onsegongo would not let her leave and others were watching her. For a while the lily was left among thorns, but God was watching and the right day would come for her escape.
On July 14, 1677, three lay catechists came down from Caughnawaga to visit the Mohawk villages. One of the catechists was Louis Garonhiague. It was common gossip that he had been one of those who had tortured Fr. Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant to their horrible death in 1649. With Louis were a Catholic Huron, and a Mohawk who had married Kateri’s adopted sister and fled with her to Caughnawaga.
When Louis learned that Kateri wanted to escape to “Praying Castle”, he gave his place in the canoe to her and went to visit his relatives. Onsegongo had been away but when he got home they told him that Kateri had run away. He wasted no time. Putting three bullets into his gun he raced along a trail to Lake Champlain, but he had been outwitted, he could not find the group. Kateri sped along in the canoe with the Huron and Mohawk who had rescued her. They crossed two lakes, floated down the Richelieu and arrived happily at the “Praying Castle”.
The Catholic Indians didn’t take long to see what a spiritual treasure they had in Kateri. She was modest, simple, humble, kind, happy, and prayerful –- she loved to pray. Every morning even when it was freezing cold, Kateri stood before the chapel door until it opened at 4:00 a.m. and was seen leaving only after the last Mass.
In time Kateri and Mary Teresa, the village drunk, became good friends. Kateri encouraged Mary Teresa towards living a good Catholic life. They shared their most secret thoughts and united themselves in piety, prayer and penance.
Kateri received her First Holy Communion at Christmas time. After this, Holy Communion became her one desire. The Cross was also a great love of hers. As the years continued she kept up her life of prayer and penance, growing in virtue and holiness.
In March 1679, Kateri approached Fr. Cholonec, her spiritual director, and told him of her desire to consecrate her virginity to God. On March 25, 1679, after Mass and Holy Communion, Kateri made the vow to remain a virgin the rest of her life. She also consecrated herself to Mary, begging her to be her Mother and to take her as her daughter. From then on she lived her life to the fullest as a child of Jesus and Mary. Instead of a red blanket, she wore a blue one and joined the Sodality of Our Lady as a chosen soul.
In Holy Week of 1680, Kateri was very sick. A year before she had been stricken with an illness, which left her with a fever and constant stomach pains. Now she also suffered chest pains and headaches. Kateri lay on her mat and the priest brought her Holy Communion.
On Holy Tuesday Kateri received Holy Viaticum. She told Mary Teresa that she was going to die, and that she would pray for her and help her from Heaven. On Wednesday Kateri was anointed with Holy Oils. Later, about 3:00 p.m., Kateri’s friends came to say goodbye. A little before dying Kateri prayed, “Jesus I love You!”
A short while after Kateri died, God worked a wonderful miracle. Kateri’s scarred face had now become smooth and lovely. Her face was beautiful!
Always try to be good like Kateri and keep the Catholic Faith.
Blessed Kateri pray for us!
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