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The Blessed Káteri Tekahkwí:tha Feast Day July 14

AKWESASNE, N.Y. – As July 14 approaches, the Feast Day of the Blessed Káteri Tekahkwí:tha, as she is called in the Roman Catholic Church (also Catherine Tekakwitha), Catholics as well as many American Indians, may ponder the life and history of “the Lily of the Mohawks.”

Her brief life of 24 years and devotion to a faith in God, decree of celibacy and miracles after her death have placed the young 17th century Mohawk woman in line to become canonized as a saint.

On Oct. 12, 2008, news came from the Vatican that Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI canonized four new saints, one of them Narcisa de Jesús Martillo y Morán of Ecuador. Many Káteri followers now have reason to believe she could be next in line for sainthood because Morán, like Káteri, made a vow of celibacy and practiced extreme mortification.

Her brief life of 24 years and devotion to a faith in God, decree of celibacy and miracles after her death have placed the young 17th century Mohawk woman in line to become canonized as a saint.

The daughter of a Mohawk warrior and a Catholic Algonquin woman, Káteri was born in the Mohawk village of Ossernon near present-day Auriesville, N.Y. At four years old, smallpox made its way through Ossernon, killing many of Káteri’s family. Smallpox left scars on her face and made her eyes extremely sensitive to the sun, thus she wore a cloak over her face.

In 1666, Ossernon was burnt to the ground by the French army and Káteri fled with some of the Mohawk people to the new village of Kahnawà:ke. (The current site of Ville Sainte-Catherine, Quebec, east of the current Kahnawà:ke reserve.) It was at this time that Káteri came into contact with Jesuit missionaries and began to dedicate her life to her faith. She took a vow of celibacy, spent long hours in prayer and physically punished her body in an effort to obtain closeness to Christ.

According to Darren Bonaparte, author of “A Lily Among Thorns,” a biography of Káteri, her life in Kahnawà:ke and her conversion to Christianity was most worth looking into.

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“Her arrival in Kahnawà:ke marks the beginning of what I feel is the most controversial aspect of her story. The converts began to imitate the severe penances that the Jesuits practiced. They whipped themselves, plunged themselves in ice cold water, and even burned themselves, all in the belief that by sharing in the suffering of Jesus Christ, they would prove themselves worthy of salvation. The Jesuits did not adequately discourage these extreme acts, but instead marveled at them.”

After years of mistreatment to her small and frail body, and ultimately sleeping on a bed of thorns for three nights, Káteri died in Kahnawà:ke. After her passing, the Jesuit missionaries began to promote her as a saint, told of her becoming beautiful immediately after her death and said she appeared in visions and caused miraculous cures to those who prayed to her.

In 1943, Káteri was declared venerable by Pope Paul Pius XII. On April 17, 2008, the 328th anniversary of her death, Monsignor Paul Lenz submitted a Cause for Canonization to the Vatican in Rome. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II June 22, 1980.

Many didn’t expect her to be canonized while John Paul II was pope since he presided over her beatification. However, with the new appointment of Pope Benedict XVI, many of her followers believe she may soon be recognized as a saint. Followers also believe she has met the requirement of two miracles, but details about her Cause for Canonization cannot be disclosed.

Today, many followers make pilgrimages to her shrines, located in the Mohawk Valley of New York state in Auriesville and Fonda. The shrines are said to be the site of two villages where she lived at different points in her life. The National Shrine of Blessed Káteri Tekahkwí:tha at Fonda is identified as Káteri’s home before she moved north to the St. Lawrence River in Kahnawà:ke. The National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville is dedicated to the Jesuit missionaries martyred at Ossernon between 1642 and 1646.

“On any given day, one is likely to find the faithful followers of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha at either of these shrines, happily following in the footsteps of the Lily of the Mohawks,” Bonaparte said. “The problem is, she never actually lived there, and probably never even set foot at either location. The places where she really lived are miles away, completely unmarked, and known only to professional archaeologists, local residents, and the occasional pothunter.

“The misidentification of the Káteri shrines as actual villages where she lived is due to the lack of sophisticated archaeological knowledge at the time these memorials were constructed. Because so much time, money and publicity had been invested in the shrines by the time this knowledge became available, nobody was in a big hurry to correct this historical error for the general public.”

Celebrate the Blessed Káteri Tekahkwí:tha July 14, her feast day – a special day to commemorate a saint, holy event or holy object. Though she has not yet been canonized, according to Catholic Online, she is the patroness of the environment and ecology as is St. Francis of Assisi.