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Kateri Tekakwitha, First Native American Saint

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Kateri Tekakwitha Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Kateri, the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Catholic Algonquin woman, was born in 1656 just northwest of Albany, New York, in the heart of the Iroquois Confederacy. She was orphaned at the age of four when smallpox wiped out her family and most of her village. The disease also left Kateri blinded and disfigured. She converted to Catholicism at the age of 20 and was baptized in honor of Saint Catherine of Siena. She moved to Kahnawake, a Mohawk settlement south of Montreal where the Jesuits had a mission. Kateri died at the young age of 24, and minutes after her death, witnesses say her smallpox scars vanished, and she appeared radiant and beautiful. She is buried at a shrine on Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada.

Kateri Tekakwitha (1690)

Image of St. Kateri Tekakwitha [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Tekakwitha was canonized on October 21, 2012, by Pope Benedict XVI. Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” she is the patron saint of the environment and ecology. During the ceremony, Benedict said: “Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in North America. May God bless the first nations.”

Some traditional Mohawks treated the naming of the first Native American saint with skepticism and feared that the Catholic Church was using it to shore up its image and marginalize traditional spiritual practices. They saw the story of Tekakwitha as yet another reminder of colonial atrocities and religious oppression. But many Mohawks downplayed any controversy and joined Catholics who see Kateri as a uniting figure and hope her elevation to sainthood might help heal old wounds.

Kateri Tekakwitha’s Feast Day is July 14.

Related Topics & Resources:

Juan Diego & Our Lady of Guadalupe (Research Topic)

Encyclopedia of North American Indians (Reference Book)

Catholics in America (Book)

Native American Religion (Book)

National Catholic Reporter (Magazine)

eLibrary Basic Search

Topic Search for Native American History

Topic Search for Native Peoples of Canada

Topic Search for Individual Saints

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the First Indigenous American Saint

Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe Research Topic

Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe Research Topic screencap via Proquest eLibrary

As Catholic tradition has it, on December 9, 1531 the Virgin Mary appeared in a vision to Indian peasant Juan Diego on a hill near Mexico City. She asked that a church be built on the hill in her honor to bring comfort to the people. Upon hearing the story, a skeptical Spanish archbishop told Juan Diego to ask Mary for a sign of her presence. Mary pointed him toward roses growing in a place where only cacti were normally found, and when Juan Diego returned with the flowers gathered in his cloak, Mary arranged them and told him return to the archbishop. When Juan Diego dumped the flowers to the floor before the archbishop, it was discovered that they had left an image of Mary on his cloak.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City houses what is purported to be the actual fabric and image (known as the tilma) described in the story above. The tilma is visited by millions of pilgrims every year, and the image is the most popular religious image in Mexico. The popularity of the story and the relic have persisted despite skepticism, including questions about whether Juan Diego even existed, and in 2002 Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego as the first indigenous American saint. Juan Diego’s feast day is December 9 and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12. Previously having been a largely Latin American tradition, observation of the Guadalupe holiday is spreading north to the U.S. and elsewhere.

Whether Juan Diego’s tilma is the result of a miracle or a fabrication, its influence has been large, spurring millions of conversions to Catholicism and helping shape Mexican identity.

For information on Our Lady of Guadalupe, related topics and just about anything else, search in eLibrary, follow the links in the text above and see the resources below:

Research Topics:

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Roman Catholicism, Virgin Mary

Subject browse sections (Click on underlined words to widen or narrow the scope and click on “View Results” to see eLibrary resources. Items with stars next to them will display Research Topic pages.):

Religion, Christianity