It was a challenge to write this article.
What can we say about this extraordinary saint that has not already been said? How do we go beyond just listing facts? How do we go deeper into her unique heroism, shrouded as it is in both the mists of time and the sheer legendary-ness of her story—taken, it seems, from the books of the most daring tales of early America?
Danger, immense suffering and deprivation, fortitude, courage, heroism—the life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha has everything you want in an American story. This girl’s capacity to endure is the stuff of legends, except that the legend is true.
Tekakwitha, daughter of a Mohawk chief, was born near the present location of Auriesville, New York. It was here that St. Isaac Jogues and his companions were martyred for the Faith not long before. The witness of her Christian Algonquin mother was most likely her first encounter with the Faith.
Her life was hard from the start. A smallpox epidemic took the lives of her parents and brother when she was a child, and left her own face scarred and her eyesight impaired.
She learned more about the Faith from Jesuit missionaries who had an uneasy presence in her village—the village leaders weren’t thrilled about them being there, but had to accommodate them due to a treaty requirement with the French.
The young Tekakwitha was inspired to become a Christian. She was filled with a desire to dedicate her life to God, and refused a marriage that was arranged for her, much to the consternation of her tribe.
She was baptized with the name Kateri—the Mohawk version of Catherine—around the age of eighteen. The difficulties with her family and village only continued, and she was subjected to persecution and scorn for her beliefs.
On the advice of a priest, she decided to leave for a place where she could live her faith in peace.
The destination: Kahnawake, a Native Catholic village near Montréal, Canada. It was 200 miles away.
Here, she at last was able to live freely among other Native Catholics. She made a vow of virginity and spent peaceful hours in prayer and works of charity. She had a stunning capacity for penance and took many sacrifices upon herself for the love of God.
She only lived a few years in her new community before moving on to eternal life at the age of twenty-four. At her death, witnesses say her scarred face became clear and lovely, and shone with a supernatural radiance.
Perhaps her story is hard to write because it simply speaks for itself. St. Kateri, Lily of the Mohawk, pray for us!
Read more about the holy Kateri and other great American Catholic heroes in Fearless: Stories of the American Saints. You won’t be able to put this book down as you dive into the gripping stories of the courageous men and women who built the Faith in this land. Available today at The Catholic Company!