St. Regis Church

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

"Lily of the Mohawks"

    Saint  Gah-deh-lee  De-gah-quee-tah

Saint Kateri TekakwithaKateri Painting

  • Born at Ossernenon, New York in 1656

  • Baptized at St. Peter's Mission in Caughawaga (Fonda, New York) April 18, 1676

  • Died Wednesday of Holy Week, April 17, 1680 in Kahnawake, Canada

  • Declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII on January 3, 1943

  • Beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 22, 1980

  • Canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012 

First Native American Saint

St. Kateri Statue

Kateri Tekakwitha: First Catholic Native American Saint

Pope names 7 new Saints, seeks to revive faith

October 21, 2012

Saint Kateri

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha


Vatican October 21, 2012



VATICAN CITY (AP) — Some 80,000 pilgrims in flowered lei, feathered headdresses and other traditional garb flooded St. Peter's Square on Sunday as Pope Benedict XVI added seven more saints onto the roster of Catholic role models in a bid to reinvigorate the faith in parts of the world where it's lagging.

Two of the new saints were Americans: Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint from the U.S., and Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii.

It seemed as if a third saint, Pedro Calungsod, a 17th century Filipino teenage martyr, drew the biggest crowd of all, with Rome's sizeable Filipino expat community turning out in flag-waving droves to welcome the country's second saint.

In his homily, Benedict praised each of the seven as heroic and courageous examples for the entire church, calling Cope a "shining" model for Catholics and Kateri an inspiration to indigenous faithful across North America.

"May the witness of these new saints ... speak today to the whole church, and may their intercession strengthen and sustain her in her mission to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world," he said.

The celebrations began at dawn, with Native Americans in beaded and feathered headdresses and leather-fringed tunics singing songs to Kateri to the beat of drums as the sun rose over St. Peter's Square.

Later, the crowds cheered as the pope read out the names of each of the new saints in Latin and declared that they were worthy of veneration by the entire church. Prayers were read out in Mohawk and Cebuano, the dialect of Calungsod's native Cebu province, and in English by a nun wearing a lei.

"It's so nice to see God showing all the flavors of the world," marveled Gene Caldwell, a Native American member of the Menominee reservation in Neopit, Wisconsin, who attended with his wife, Linda. "The Native Americans are enthralled" to have Kateri canonized, he said.

The canonization coincided with a Vatican meeting of the world's bishops on trying to revive Christianity in places where it's fallen by the wayside.

Several of the new saints were missionaries, making clear the pope hopes their example — even though they lived hundreds of years ago — will be relevant today as the Catholic Church tries to hold on to its faithful. It's a tough task as the Vatican faces competition from evangelical churches in Africa and Latin America, increasing secularization in the West and disenchantment due to the clerical sex abuse scandal in Europe and beyond.

The two American saints actually hail from roughly the same place — what is today upstate New York — although they lived two centuries apart.

Known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," Kateri was born in 1656 to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother. Her parents and only brother died when she was 4 during a smallpox epidemic that left her badly scarred and with impaired eyesight. She went to live with her uncle, a Mohawk, and was baptized Catholic by Jesuit missionaries. But she was ostracized and persecuted by other natives for her faith, and she died in what is now Canada when she was 24.

Speaking in English and French, in honor of Kateri's Canadian ties, Benedict noted how unusual it was in Kateri's indigenous culture for her to choose to devote herself to her Catholic faith.

"May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are," Benedict said. "Saint Kateri, protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust you to the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America!"

Among the few people chosen to receive Communion from the pope himself was Jake Finkbonner, a 12-year-old boy of Native American descent from the western U.S. state of Washington, whose recovery from an infection of flesh-eating bacteria was deemed "miraculous" by the Vatican. The Vatican determined that Jake was cured through Kateri's intercession after his family and community invoked her in their prayers, paving the way for her canonization.

Cope is revered among many Catholics in Hawaii, where she arrived from New York in 1883 to care for leprosy patients on Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on Molokai Island where Hawaii governments forcibly exiled them for decades. At the time, there was widespread fear of the disfiguring disease, which can cause skin lesions, mangled fingers and toes and lead to blindness.

Cope, however, led a band of Franciscan nuns to the peninsula to care for the patients, just as Saint Damien, a Belgian priest, did in 1873. He died of the disease 16 years later and was canonized in 2009.

"At a time when little could be done for those suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest love, courage and enthusiasm," Benedict said in his homily. "She is a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved St. Francis."

Two-hundred fifty pilgrims from Hawaii traveled to Rome for Mother Marianne's canonization, including nine Kalaupapa patients, as well as faithful from the local diocese.

"Marianne Cope means a great deal to us," said pilgrim Aida Javier, who traveled from Honolulu with her husband Romy for the Mass. "My husband and I feel blessed and honored to be part of this canonization."

Another pilgrim was Sharon Smith, of Syracuse, New York, whose 2005 cure from complications from pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, was declared medically inexplicable by the Vatican — the "miracle" needed for Mother Marianne to be named a saint. In an interview last week, Smith recounted how she had fainted one day in her home, an allergic reaction to medication she was taking for a kidney transplant, and awoke in the hospital to find that doctors weren't giving her much time to live.

Her disease was eating away at her insides, causing her stomach to detach from her intestines. Doctors said they couldn't repair it. At a certain point, a nun pinned a bag of ashes and dirt from Mother Marianne's grave on her and prayed.

"I had never heard of her, but we continued to pray," Smith said. "And I just, I started getting better."

"I believe in miracles, but I don't know whether it was all the prayers, or the pinning of the relic, but I know that something worked, and I'm here for some reason," Smith said.

The Vatican's complicated saint-making procedure requires that the Vatican certify a "miracle" was performed through the intercession of the candidate — a medically inexplicable cure that can be directly linked to the prayers offered by the faithful. One miracle is needed for beatification, a second for canonization.

The Philippines' second saint, Calungsod, was a Filipino teenager who helped Jesuit priests convert natives in Guam in the 17th century but was killed by spear-wielding villagers opposed to the missionaries' efforts to baptize their children.

"We are especially proud because he is so young," said Marianna Dieza, a 39-year-old housekeeper working in Rome who was on hand for the Mass.

The other new saints are: Jacques Berthieu, a 19th century French Jesuit who was killed by rebels in Madagascar, where he had worked as a missionary; Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian who founded a religious order in 1900 and established a Catholic printing and publishing house in his native Brescia; Carmen Salles y Barangueras, a Spanish nun who founded a religious order to educate children in 1892; and Anna Schaeffer, a 19th century German lay woman who became a model for the sick and suffering after she fell into a boiler and badly burned her legs. The wounds never healed, causing her constant pain. 

Kateri Tekakwitha "Lily of the Mohawks"

 She was the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and a Christian Algonquin woman, was born in the Mohawk fortress of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York. At the age of 4 a smallpox epidemic swept through Ossernenon, and Tekakwitha was left with unsightly scars and poor eyesight. The outbreak took the lives of her brother and both her parents and Tekakwitha was adopted by her uncle, who was the chief of the Turtle-clan.

In 1666, Marquis Alexandre De Prouville de Tracy burned down Ossernenon. A new fort, Caughnawaga, was built on the north side of the Mohawk River in what is now Fonda, New York. While living there Kateri was converted and baptized in 1676 by Father Jacques de Lamberville , a Jesuit. At her baptism, she took the name "Kateri", a Mohawk pronunciation of "Catherine".

Because she was persecuted by her Indian kin, she moved to Kahnawake, Canada where she lived a life dedicated to prayer, penitential practices, and care for the sick and aged. Kateri took a vow of chastity.

A year later, Kateri Tekakwitha died at the age of 24.

According to Catholic belief, Kateri's scars vanished at the time of her death. It is also held that she appeared to two different individuals in the weeks following her death.

The process of her canonization began in 1884. She was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII on January 3, 1943. She was beatified June 22, 1980 by Pope John Paul II, and as such she is properly referred to as "Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha" within the Roman Catholic Church.


Her body is entombed in a marble shrine at the St. Francis-Xavier Church in Kahnawake, a Montreal-area Mohawk community that was expected to be well represented among the 1,500 Canadian pilgrims who planned to attend the celebrations.

Saint Kateri's canonization follows what has been judged a miracle by the church in the 2006 case of a five-year-old American boy who battled for his life after suffering from flesh-eating bacteria.

The oldest portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha is an oil painting on canvas 41" x 37" painted by Father  Claude Chauchetière between 1682 - 1693. It hangs in the sacristy of St. Francis Xavier Church on the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserveration on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, near Montreal, Quebec.

Oldest Kateri Tekakwitha Portrait

About the first Kateri Tekakwitha artist Claude Chauchetière

 Claude Chauchetière, Jesuit missionary, painter (Born at St-Porchaire-de-Poitiers, France 7 Sept 1645; Died at Québec City 17 Apr 1709). A number of Jesuits used illustrations in their evangelization work with the natives, but the only authentic pieces to survive - bound in book form - are by Chauchetière.

He arrived in Canada in 1677 and went in 1678 to the Iroquois mission of St-François-Xavier at Sault-St-Louis [Kahnawake, Québec]. Most of his time as a missionary was spent in this village of converted natives. His Narration annuelle de la Mission du Sault depuis la fondation jusqu'à l'an 1686 relates and illustrates the main events of his mission.

The full-length portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha in the church at Kahnawake is attributed to him, even though the chapel in the tableau appears more recent than any he could have known. 


Mohawk woman poised to become 'first' aboriginal saint

Deacon Ron Boyer

Deacon Ron Boyer looks at the tomb of Kateri Tekakwitha at St. Francis Xavier Church, Monday, December 19, 2011 in Kahnawake, Que, south of Montreal

The Canadian Press
Published Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 5:37PM EST

MONTREAL - The bells of a small church dedicated to Kateri Tekakwitha rang in celebration with news Monday that hundreds of years of efforts to have her canonized are poised to bear fruit.

The Vatican announced that the Mohawk woman who died in 1680 is among those who have passed the last test for sainthood, which could make her the first aboriginal to receive the honour.

No date has been officially announced for the canonization of the first aboriginal saint by Pope Benedict; there have been reports it could be as soon as February.

"It's absolutely wonderful," said George Ryder, who volunteers at the St. Francis Xavier Church in Kahnawake, Que., where Tekakwitha is entombed in a marble shrine.

"It's astounding and it's about time."

It's been 331 years since she died, and 127 years since the process for her canonization began in 1884. She was declared venerable in 1943. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1980, a step the Catholic News Service reported made her "the first Native American to be beatified."

On Monday, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints credited her with a second miracle performed after death, which opens the door to her being declared a saint.

Known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," Tekakwitha was born in New York in 1656. Her mother, father and brother died of small pox when she was four years old and she was scarred by the disease.

The young woman, who was taken in by her uncle and aunt, got her first knowledge of Christianity from missionaries and embraced it with zeal after being baptized when she was 18.

Tekakwitha practiced her faith despite some severe opposition and she finally fled to Kahnawake where her spirituality, virtue and charity impressed not only her own people but missionaries and the French.

It has been claimed that her scars disappeared upon her death at age 24, revealing great beauty, and that many sick people who attended her funeral were healed. It was also said that Tekakwitha, who was described by one priest as "the protectress of Canada," appeared to two people in the weeks after she died.

Ryder said that he has seen a steady stream of pilgrims to the shrine at the church near Montreal in the five years he's been there.

Many people have left items such as pictures, flowers or trinkets in tribute at the square tomb, which sits in front of a statue of Tekakwitha.

Joe Delaronde, a spokesman for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, said, "This is really big news."

"I think it caught a lot of people in Kahnawake by surprise. The work to have her canonized has been going on for a long, long time but it always seemed like it was on the back burner. The announcement this morning was just overwhelming."

Delaronde, who is 53, said he's been hearing about possible sainthood for Tekakwitha all his life.

"After a while, you start to think, 'Well, I guess not in my lifetime,' so it's really just sinking in. I think a lot of the older, especially more devout people, are probably just celebrating like crazy right now."

He said there was a real buzz in the town and the church had marked the occasion in a way no one could miss.

"They've been ringing the bells all morning," he said. "The news is really spreading around here pretty fast."

He described Tekakwitha as someone whose "devotion was almost without equal" in a time when Catholicism was regarded by some with suspicion.

There are several shrines to her in Canada and the United States, in addition to the church in Kahnawake.

The subject of dozens of biographies, Tekakwitha also has a place in popular culture as the symbol of salvation in Leonard Cohen's second novel, "Beautiful Losers."

"She was such a humble person, who sought no glory for herself, only to work for the Lord," said Ryder. "She had this great calling from God and felt that she had to respond."

Boy's miracle cure makes first Native American saint

Published October 20, 2012

Associated Press

Jake Finkbonner

VATICAN CITY – Jake Finkbonner was so close to death after flesh-eating bacteria infected him through a cut on his lip that his parents had last rites performed and were discussing donating the 5-year-old's tiny organs.

Jake's 2006 cure from the infection was deemed medically inexplicable by the Vatican, the "miracle" needed to propel a 17th century Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, on to sainthood. Kateri will be canonized on Sunday along with six other people, the first Native American to receive the honor.

Jake is fully convinced, as is the church, that the prayers his family and community offered to Kateri, including the placement of a relic of the soon-to-be saint on Jake's leg, were responsible for his survival.

Jake, now 12 and an avid basketball player and cross-country runner, will be present at the canonization, along with hundreds of members of his own Lummi tribe from northwest Washington state and reservations across the U.S. and Canada who have converged on Rome to honor one of their own. It's a ceremony the Catholic Church hopes will encourage Native Americans to keep to their Christian faith amid continued resentment among some that Catholicism was imposed on them by colonial-era missionaries centuries ago.

"I believe everybody has a purpose on this earth," Jake's mother Elsa Finkbonner said this week soon after the family arrived in Rome for the ceremony. "I think this Sunday Jake will define his purpose, and that's to make Kateri a saint."

Jake, a poised, lanky kid who just got his braces off, seems perfectly at ease with his role in the whole thing, gracious and grateful to the doctors who performed 29 surgeries to save his life and reconstruct his face.

"It's a really special thing," Jake told The Associated Press, flanked by his parents on a hotel terrace sofa. "We've never been to Rome, and especially meeting the pope? It'll be an experience of a lifetime."

Besides Kateri, Pope Benedict XVI will declare another American a saint Sunday, Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun from Utica, New York -- near where Kateri lived two centuries earlier -- who cared for lepers exiled to Hawaii's Kalaupapa Peninsula. Another new saint is Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino teenager who was killed in 1672 along with his Jesuit missionary priest by natives resisting their conversion efforts.

The Catholic Church creates saints to hold up models for the faithful, convinced that their lives -- even lived hundreds of years ago -- are still relevant to today's Catholics. The complicated saint-making procedure requires that the Vatican certify a "miracle" was performed through the intercession of the candidate -- a medically inexplicable cure that can be directly linked to the prayers offered by the faithful. One miracle is needed for beatification, a second for canonization.

In Jake's case, Kateri was already an important figure for Catholics in the Lummi tribe, of which his father Donny is a member. A carved wooden statue sits in the church on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham, Washington, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the Canadian border, where Jake's grandparents worshipped and where Donny remembers being told of Kateri's story as a child.

Known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," Kateri was born in 1656 to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother in what is today upstate New York. Her parents and only brother died when she was 4 during a smallpox epidemic that left her badly scarred and with impaired eyesight. She went to live with her uncle, a Mohawk, and was baptized Catholic by Jesuit missionaries. But she was ostracized and persecuted by other natives for her faith, and she died in Canada when she was 24.

The Rev. Tim Sauer was the Finkbonner's parish priest in Ferndale, Washington -- as well as the visiting pastor on the Lummi reservation -- when Jake cut his lip while playing basketball on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006. The necrotizing fasciitis bacteria that entered Jake's body through the cut immediately began spreading, and by the time Sauer arrived at Seattle Children's Hospital where Jake was airlifted two days later, Donny and Elsa Finkbonner were preparing to bury their son.

"At that point, we were desperate, and we were looking for anyone's help that would help our son," Donny said, recalling how doctors had said there wasn't much else for them to do but pray, and that they had come to terms with the possibility that their oldest of three children might not survive the week.

"We wanted Jake back with us desperately," he recalled. "But we were willing to give him up" to God.

Sauer, who performed the last rites ritual on Jake that Wednesday -- four days after he cut his lip -- said he immediately urged the Finkbonners and the congregation back on the reservation to pray to Kateri, thinking their shared Native American heritage and scarring diseases were relevant.

He said he did so first and foremost to save Jake, but also because he thought that Native Americans could use a "boost of faith" if one of their own were held up as a saint. Indigenous Catholics, he said, increasingly find themselves ostracized and criticized on their reservations for embracing and retaining the Christian faith spread by imperial colonizers.

"There's been a growing sense of a return to Native American spirituality on reservations, which are good things, but at the same time along with that has been some criticism that native people should let go of Christianity because that was brought by the `white man' and should go back to their own native culture entirely," he said.

He said Kateri represents a perfect model for indigenous Catholics today, someone who resisted the ostracization of fellow natives and kept the faith.

For the devoutly Catholic Finkbonners, prayer was all they had left after Jake's doctors tried unsuccessfully for two weeks to stop the bacteria's spread. Jake was in a drug-induced coma for most of that time and says he doesn't remember much, a few memories "here and there, not all of it."

"Every day it would seem the news would get worse," Donny recalled. "I remember the last day that we met with the whole group of doctors, Elsa didn't even want to hear. She just got behind me and was holding on."

But rather than bad news, the doctors said the infection had stopped. "It was like a volcano that was erupting, and they opened him up and it was gone. It had stopped. It was a pretty amazing day," Donny said.

It took the Finkbonners several years to realize that the turning point had come a day after a friend of the family -- a nun named after Kateri -- had visited them in the hospital, prayed with them and placed a relic of the soon-to-be saint on Jake's leg.

"It took years for us to look at the calendar and recall that this is the day she came, this is the day she put the relic on, this is the day the infection stopped," Elsa said. "As the years of the investigation have gone on, little bits and pieces of puzzle seem to fall into place, and that's where it all makes sense now as to why Jake's story turned out so big."

Jake, who bears the scars of his ordeal, seems all too happy to be the center of attention this weekend. But he seems keen to move on from his celebrity. He has basketball tryouts when he gets back home and his studies -- he wants to be a plastic surgeon when he grows up. "Kateri was placed on this earth, and she has interceded on many people's behalf, she has defined her purpose," Elsa said. "I think Jake has bigger, larger plans in store for him."


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