Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, "the Lily of the Mohawks," is the young Indian maiden who, despite objections from some in her own clan, came to know and love Christ.
She was born in 1656 in a village on the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now Auriesville, N.Y. Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother a Christian Algonquin raised among the French.
She was born into a period of political and religious turmoil, 10 years after three of the Jesuit martyrs were tortured and killed. Indians blamed the "Blackrobes" for the sudden appearance of deadly white man's diseases, including smallpox.
When Kateri was four, a smallpox epidemic claimed her parents and baby brother. Kateri survived, but her face was disfigured and her eyesight impaired.
According to legend, she was raised by relatives who began to plan her marriage. But after meeting with Catholic priests, Kateri decided to be baptized and pursue religious life. When she was baptized on Easter in 1676 at age 20, her relatives were not pleased.
She fled the next year to Canada, taking refuge at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Caughnawaga on the St. Lawrence River, about 15 km from Montreal. She reportedly made her First Communion on Christmas in 1677.
She astounded the Jesuits with her deep spirituality and her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She took a private vow of virginity and devoted herself to prayer and to teaching prayers to the children and helping the sick and elderly of Caughnawaga.
Tekakwitha was not the only member of her community to embrace Christianity during a colonial time fraught with conflict and struggle for native tribes. But to her older, more educated Jesuit mentors, she was remarkable.
When her request to start a religious community was denied, Kateri continued to live a life of austerity and prayer. She was said to perform "extraordinary penances."
She died in 1680 at the age of 24. According to eyewitnesses, including two Jesuits and many Indians, the scars on her face suddenly disappeared after her death. Her tomb is in Caughnawaga. There is a shrine to her in St. Francis Xavier Church there.
Soon after Tekakwitha died, Catholics started to claim that favours and miracles had been obtained through her intercession. First Nations people have made appeals to the Catholic Church for her recognition since at least the late 1800s.
She was declared venerable in 1942 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. In Canada, her feast is marked on April 17.
She is listed as patron of aboriginal people, ecology and the environment and is held up as a model for Catholic youths.