As she grew older, Kateri longed for the faith of her mother, faintly remembering the prayers she was taught as a child, and was drawn to the Jesuit missionaries who were evangelizing and teaching in the area near her village. Tensions were already high between her and her tribe because she staunchly refused pressure to marry.
At the age of 20 Kateri was secretly baptized by the Jesuits with the name Catherine (which translates “Kateri”) after St. Catherine of Siena. Her uncle did not approve of her conversion, and as a result Kateri was ostracized from her village, treated harshly, and bullied. When her life was in danger, with the aid of a priest she fled to live at a French Jesuit mission in Montreal, Canada.
Kateri trekked over 200 miles through rough terrain, a two month, undoubtedly difficult due to her poor eyesight, to reach the Christian settlement. There she desired to live a life of prayer and penance. She declined marriage and lived as a single woman with deep faith, offering her sufferings and life to Christ. Her great sanctity, virtue, mystical prayer life, and love for Christ amazed the Jesuits and everyone who knew her. It is said that people loved to be around her and listen to her speak because her soul radiated the beauty and peace of God.
Kateri Tekakwitha died in 1680 during Holy Week when she was only 24 years old. The priest who attended her bedside at the time of her death testified that Kateri’s face, which was “… so disfigured and so swarthy in life, suddenly changed about fifteen minutes after her death, and in an instant became so beautiful and so fair that just as soon as I saw it (I was praying by her side) I let out a yell, I was so astonished, and I sent for the priest who was working at the repository for the Holy Thursday service. At the news of this prodigy, he came running along with some people who were with him. We then had the time to contemplate this marvel right up to the time of her burial. I frankly admit that my first thought at the time was that Catherine could well have entered heaven at that moment and that she had — as a preview — already received in her virginal body a small indication of the glory of which her soul had taken possession in Heaven.”
A Saint for Our Times
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha made a heroic decision to respond to God’s call to the Christian life in spite of the difficult cultural circumstances of her time, namely epidemic disease, tensions and fighting among warring Indian tribes, and severe religious persecution.
Even though she lost her family, her eyesight, her beauty, her good health, and her village, she used all of these extremely difficult personal circumstances to cultivate a life of deep prayer and sanctity. She is a model for our own times in that we have our own epidemics (such as moral collapse), our own tensions and fighting (such as warring among political parties), and our own religious persecution of the Christian faith. St. Kateri is also a model for young people who are striving to live a holy and chaste life, especially without the guidance of parents. St. Kateri overcame every obstacle by submitting herself entirely to Christ.
Pope Saint John Paul II, at her beatification, called St. Kateri God’s “bountiful gift” to His Church and a “sweet, frail yet strong figure of a young woman.” It is said that St. Kateri’s last words are said to have been, “Jesos Konoronkwa,” which translates, “Jesus, I love you.”
A Short Biography of St. Kateri
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, affectionately called the ‘Lily of the Mohawks’, was born in New York in 1656 to a Mohawk chief father and an Algonquin mother who was converted to the faith by Jesuit missionaries.
Kateri’s mother was a practicing Catholic, though in secret due to the hostility between the Indian tribes and the missionaries. She was even forbidden from having Kateri baptized as a child.
When Kateri was just four years old a smallpox epidemic swept through her village killing her entire family in addition to leaving her orphaned, partially blind, disfigured, and crippled. She was then adopted and raised by her uncle who detested the Christians.