Today the church remembers a 17th Century saint, the first Native American that the church officially canonized: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks.
St. Kateri was born to an Algonquin mother who was a practicing Christian and a Mowhak Turtle chief, who was not a Christian. When she was just four years old, a smallpox epidemic took both of her parents and her brother, leaving her with damaged eyesight and noticeable scars on her face. She was taken in by her uncle, who did not approve of her mother’s faith.
At the age of 18, St. Kateri secretly started studying with Jesuit missionaries, and she decided to be baptized and assume the name “Kateri” in honor of St. Catherine of Siena.
A year after her baptism, French conquerors came through and massacred her people and burned their village. St. Kateri escaped by taking to the St. Lawrence River. She was taken in by a First Nations tribe down river who happened to be Christian, and she dedicated her life to prayer and the care for the sick.
At the age of twenty-three St. Kateri contracted tuberculosis, and died shortly before turning twenty-four. Her final words were reportedly, “Jesus–Mary–I love you.”
She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1980, the first First Nations saint to be canonized (though, truly, many are canonized in the hearts of those who know their stories). She is often referred to as Lily of the Mohawks.
St. Kateri is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes those who have walked the most unjust roads are the perfect companions for those in need. St. Kateri’s life was ravaged by white invaders who brought their diseases, guns, and unbridled ambition to take over a land and subjugate a people they had no claim to, often in the name of religion and the church.
But, like her Jesus whom she loved so much, St. Kateri was a model for them of true discipleship.
-historical bits gleaned from Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals