July 13, 2017 - July 14 is the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint in the Catholic Church, who converted to Christianity after being inspired by Jesuit missionaries in what is now upstate New York.
Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in Ossernenon (now Auriesville), a Mohawk village in upstate New York. Her father was a Mohawk chief, and her Catholic mother was a member of the Algonquin nation.
When she was a child, a smallpox epidemic decimated most of her village and family. St. Kateri survived the outbreak but would suffer from poor eyesight and ill health the rest of her life. Orphaned by the disease, she would be raised by members of her non-Catholic father’s family.
She was deeply moved by the preaching of the Jesuits, who traveled among the villages and was baptized at age 20. St. Kateri dedicated her life to prayer, penance, caring for the sick and infirm and adoration of the Eucharist. In 1677, she began a 200-mile trek to a Jesuit mission in Canada, where she could more openly practice her faith. Her health continued to deteriorate, and she died on April 17, 1680 at age 24. Her last reported words were: “Jesus! Mary! I love you.”
A first-degree relic (a piece of bone) from St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Courtesy of Fr. Peter Schineller, SJ.
Pope Pius XII declared her venerable in 1943, the first step toward sainthood. Pope John Paul II beatified Kateri, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, in 1980. Pope Benedict XVI approved the miracle needed for sainthood on Dec. 19, 2011, citing her intervention in the recovery of a young boy in Washington state who was gravely ill from flesh-eating bacteria. Pope Benedict announced on Feb. 18, 2012 that Kateri would be canonized and welcomed into the communion of saints on Oct. 21, 2012.