Kateri Tekakwitha (c. 1656 – April 17, 1680), the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and a Catholic Algonquin woman, was born in the Mohawk fortress of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York. When she was four, smallpox swept through Ossernenon and Tekakwitha was left with unsightly scars on her face and poor eyesight. The outbreak took the lives of her brother and both her parents. She was then adopted by her uncle, who was a chief of the Turtle-clan. As the adopted daughter of the chief, she was courted by many of the warriors looking for her hand in marriage. However, during this time she began taking interest in Christianity, which was taught to her by her mother. In 1666, Alexandre de Prouville burned down Ossernenon. Kateri’s clan then settled on the north side of the Mohawk River, near what is now Fonda, New York. While living here, at the age of 20, Tekakwitha was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676 by Father Jacques de Lamberville, a Jesuit. At her baptism, she took the name “Kateri,” a Mohawk pronunciation of the French name “Catherine.” Tekakwitha literally means “she moves things.” Unable to understand her zeal, members of the tribe often chastised her, which she took as a testament to her faith. Because she was persecuted by her Native American kin, which even resulted in threats on her life, she fled to an established community of Native American Christians located in Kahnawake, Quebec, where she lived a life dedicated to prayer, penance and caring for the sick and aged. In 1679, she took a vow of chastity and, a year later, died at the age of 24, with her last words being “Jesus, I love you!” According to eyewitness accounts, Kateri’s scars vanished at the time of her death, revealing a woman of immense beauty. It has been claimed that at her funeral many of the ill who attended were healed on that day. The process for her canonization began in 1884. She was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII on January 3, 1943. She was later beatified on June 22, 1980 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first Native American to be so honored, and as such she holds a special place of devotion among the Native/Aboriginal Catholics of North America. Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter’s Basilica on October 21, 2012.
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