Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” the American Indian Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) was born near the banks of the Mohawk River in modern-day New York State (close to the spot where the French Jesuit missionaries Saints René Goupil, Isaac Jogues, and Jean de la Lande had been martyred a few years earlier). When Kateri was four, her parents and brother died from smallpox; she survived the disease, but it left her with a pock-marked face and partial blindness. Kateri became skilled at sewing and decorating leather moccasins and clothing, but the relatives who raised her treated her little better than a slave girl.
When three Jesuit missionaries visited her village, Kateri was assigned to care for one of them. She herself was too shy to ask for religious instruction, but one of the priests, noticing her piety, came to her and spoke of Jesus. Kateri was delighted; she took instruction, and was baptized in 1676. Because she thereafter refused to work on Sundays, her relatives accused her of laziness and disrespect, and treated her severely. This, and the harsh penances she practiced, seriously affected Kateri’s health, but she responded to every difficulty with love and patience.
In 1677, helped by other sympathetic Indians, she escaped to a Catholic settlement near Montreal; two years later she made a vow of perpetual virginity — something unheard of for an Indian maiden. Though only twenty-four, Kateri became very weak, and died on April 17, 1680 during Holy Week. Immediately afterwards, her pock-marked face took on a new beauty, and she was buried on Holy Thursday.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter’s Basilica on October 21, 2012.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Francis Solano (1610), Priest, Franciscan Missionary