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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