Church Life, Personal

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

The first time I heard that name, I immediately fell in love with it and knew that, wife willing, my first daughter would be so called. It is unique without being crazy, and has deep traditional ties to it. My wife agreed to the name, and so our first born child, my first daughter was named Kateri.

Kateri Tekakwitha was the child of a Mohawk chief who captured his Algonquin bride in a raid. Kateri's mom had a deep spiritual life and was a Catholic. Her father kept the old ways, but both of them died when she was a young child by a small pox epidemic that ruined many in her town. She survived, but with scars all over her face and greatly diminished eye sight.

Though rejection of the Catholic French Jesuit missionaries was common by the rightfully suspicious Mohawks, Kateri was able to seek out the Jesuit instruction and become a Catholic herself. She was one of those rare people who so give themselves over to the Lord that they never stop growing and progressing in the spiritual life.

She was a strong woman. Her people rejected her, attacked her, persecuted her for her beliefs, but she endured.

She was perhaps too harsh on herself with her acts of penance, putting her weak body through fasting and other practices that it took a big toll on her health. Her confessor told her to take it down a tad, and she just laughed, as if anything could deter this woman from doing what her mind was set to. In this, she resembles her namesake, Saint Catherine of Siena, who is remarkable in her holiness, but also for her boldness, as she was the one who told the Pope to get out of France and return to Rome.

She was baptized at the age of 20 in 1676, where she took a life-long vow of virginity. She died at the age of 24. The Lily of the Mohawks was regarded by the Jesuits of her time as a living saint.

She was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II and, as of last week, she was just canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on October 21, 2012.

My daughter has a strong and faithful patroness to look up to and emulate. It is my hope and prayer that Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, becomes a beautiful beacon of love in my daughter's life.