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St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks

Where once there was a place of torture and torment there now lies a very peaceful area in Auriesville, New York—a holy spot dedicated to the saints who once roamed there. In fact, this holy place not only contains the resting grounds of many North American martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the salvation of souls but is also the birthplace of Native American St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
In midsummer of 2011, I was able to make a pilgrimage to this location. It was a very special time for me, because I was preparing to be confirmed in the Catholic Church; because of this, my confirmation sponsor suggested we take a holy trip. I was twenty years old when I made the trek up to Auriesville. Never having made a pilgrimage before, I had no idea what to expect, but I had a great devotion to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and I was more than excited to see her birthplace.
That area in upstate New York is absolutely breath-taking and beautiful. Surrounded by rolling hills and wide-open spaces, you can’t help but feel at peace. Even when I walked what used to be the gauntlet, where many people, including the North American martyrs, were beaten and tortured, I still felt peace. I knew their suffering wasn’t in vain. Throughout the trip I felt St. Kateri’s presence all around me.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha always captivated me. She is known as the Lily of the Mohawks because of her virginal purity but also because she tried to evangelize people in her Mohawk village. Even though she wasn’t officially catechized, she connected to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary at a very young age. The Jesuits had visited her village and tried to teach the Native Americans about Jesus. To do this the missionaries began learning the native language and would often refer to the faith in terms and signs that were relevant to the Native Americans. Many parallels between the Catholic faith and North American tradition started to become clear, and the Jesuits were even able to translate the Lord’s Prayer into the language of the Mohawks. However, Mohicans intruded on Kateri’s village and, as a result, the Jesuit missionaries were captured and killed, along with the chiefs of the tribe.
Kateri faced many difficulties, not just with the attacks from other tribes, but also from disease. She suffered from a bout of smallpox that left her face scarred and almost blinded her. This disease killed her parents, leaving Kateri orphaned. However, she did not suffer in vain; she would offer up her pain and sickness for the conversion of those around her. She would even sleep with thorns in her bed as corporal mortification for the conversion of souls.
Even though Kateri never really studied the faith, her heart was completely invested in the mission of Jesus. She remained pure of heart, even when she was forced to marry, and steadfast in her attempts toward the salvation of others. She chose to be baptized against the wishes of many of her friends and family. At twenty-four, I am now the age at which she died after a long period of declining health; it is worth mentioning that at the time of her death the scars on her face were cleared and some say she was glowing. St. Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized as the first Native American saint by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012.
When I was later able to spend a week for a mission trip with the the Native Americans of the Turtle Clan in North Dakota (Kateri was thought to be from this clan), my love and devotion for St. Kateri grew even more. Their Catholic identity is so great on that mountain in North Dakota, that I can’t help but think it is a result of the hard work, sacrifice, and prayers made by St. Kateri and the North American martyrs. They paved the way for our faith in America and we must not forget their sacrifices.
St. Kateri was young when she died, but she lived her life selflessly for others. As Catholics, both young and old, we can take St. Kateri’s example and apply it to our own lives. It’s never too late to start living for others, and especially for Christ. Let us follow St. Kateri’s example of faith, hope, and charity. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks, pray for us!
Callie Kowalski is a member of RENEW’s marketing and communications team and directs its young adult programs.

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One Response to “St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks”

  1. Barb Thoma says:

    great job Callie. We need to here such a story, we all need to be reminded that God can use us to spread the Gospel, no matter our age, physical health or how well-versed we are in His Word. Our witness to the world, is how we live our daily lives loving Christ and loving those who cross our paths. St. Kateri shows
    us the simplicity of loving and following Christ — we don’t need to make it complicated. Thanks for the blog

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