America is still a young country, and although we don’t have the long history of saints that the Eastern and European countries do, American saints are on the rise.
One of those saints is St. Kateri Tekakwitha, from the Native American Mohawk tribe in present-day New York State. She was given the name Tekakwitha at her birth in 1656. When she was four, a smallpox epidemic killed her parents and younger brother and left the orphaned Tekakwitha half-blind. She was raised by her uncle.
In the late 1660s, French Jesuits established missions near Auriesville, New York. When Tekakwitha was eleven years old, to her uncle’s dismay she befriended the Jesuit missionaries Jacques Frémin, Jacques Bruyas, and Jean Pierron, who taught her about Christianity.
When Tekakwitha was seventeen, she refused an arranged marriage with another Mohawk. The following year, in the spring of 1674, she met Fr. Jacques de Lamberville, a Jesuit priest, and spoke to him about her interest in converting to Christianity. Fr. Jacques began to teach her about Catholicism.
On Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676, Fr. Jacques baptized Tekakwitha, and she was given the name Kateri, which was Catherine in her native language. After she converted to Christianity, Kateri was isolated by her tribe and persecuted in many ways. However, she held onto the truth that she had great dignity as a baptized daughter of God.
To seek refuge, Kateri ran away from home and walked 200 miles to a Christian Native American village at Sault-St-Louis, near Montreal, Canada. Here, Kateri gave herself to God, spending many hours in prayer. When she was twenty-three, she became a consecrated virgin. During Holy Week in 1680, her health was declining, so the priests at her village performed Last Rites. She died on April 17, 1680, the day before Holy Thursday. Upon her death, her face—which had been scarred by smallpox—was transfigured, clear, and beautifully radiant.
St. Kateri is the patron saint of Native Americans, people in exile, orphans, ecologists, and environmentalists.
The fascinating history of Catholicism in the early Americas continues from Kateri’s time up through the twentieth century. Alice Camille and Paul Boudrea’s Fearless: Stories of the American Saints details the lives of fascinating Catholic saints throughout American history, many of whom were persecuted for their faith. You can discover the bravery of our ancestors by getting your own copy here.