Very often, we read stories of saints from far-off lands that lived in a time very different from ours. It is very rare that we hear of a saint who was born in America, let alone the state that houses the majority of The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network’s listening areas – New York. Only a handful of saints fit this criteria. One such saint is St. Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as “the lily of the Mohawks” for her vow of perpetual virginity and her Native American heritage. We celebrate her feast day on July 14th.
St. Kateri was born in what is now the town of Auriesville, New York in 1656. Tekakwitha was the name given to her by her people, the Mohawks. It is not until she was baptized Catholic at the age of nineteen that she took the name Kateri, or Catherine, in honor of St. Catherine of Siena.
Young Tekakwitha contracted smallpox at the age of four. The disease left her with scars on her face and weak vision. Though smallpox resulted in great suffering for the saint, God spared her life, and she would in turn pursue great virtue and holiness.
Shunned by many of her own tribe for converting to Catholicism in her teens, St. Kateri left her place of birth to find a safe haven at a Jesuit mission in Quebec, Canada. She believed strongly in the power of redemptive suffering and practiced several forms of penance that involved mortification of the flesh.
St. Kateri died at the age of twenty-four on Holy Wednesday in 1680. Several individuals present at the time reported that her smallpox scars seemed to disappear immediately after her death as if they had never existed. Canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, she is the first Native American saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
If you would like to learn more about St. Kateri, please visit the Auriesville Shrine in Auriesville, New York.
For a great book on the life of St. Kateri, check out Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri by Emily Cavins with a foreword by EWTN’s own Fr. Mitch Pacwa.