A Mohawk woman who lived in upstate New York and Quebec, Canada, in the 17th century will become the first American Indian to be canonized as a Catholic saint by the church in Rome this Sunday.
Thousands of Canadians and New Yorkers are traveling to the Vatican for the ceremony that will honor Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born in 1656 in the town of Auriesville, N.Y. and died in Kahnawake in Canada's Quebec province 24 years later.
The Canadian delegation to Rome will include Richard Smith, archbishop of Edmonton and head of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Lionel Gendron, bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil diocese in Quebec, the site of Tekakwitha's tomb and shrine.
Known as Lily of the Mohawks, Tekakwitha was converted to Catholicism by Jesuit priests and spent much of her short, grim life struggling from the ravages of smallpox, including partial blindness. The disease had killed her parents and infant brother and left her permanently weak.
“Although not formally educated and unable to read and write, Kateri led a life of prayer and penitential practices,” Catholic Conservation stated.
“She taught the young and helped those in the village who were poor or sick. Kateri spoke words of kindness to everyone she encountered. Her favorite devotion was to fashion crosses out of sticks and place them throughout the woods. These crosses served as stations that reminded her to spend a moment in prayer.”
Tekakwitha died from exposure to cold weather, exacerbated by her already-weakened condition. According to witnesses, upon her death, the scars on her face were healed.
She was declared “venerable” by the church during World War II and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. To quality for sainthood, the Vatican determined that she performed a miracle by curing a young boy from a flesh-eating disease.
In 2006, doctors in Seattle, Wash., were stunned when their patient, an 11-year-old lad afflicted with flesh-eating bacteria, was suddenly cured. It turned out that his parents had prayed to Tekakwitha for his recovery.
"People have been praying for this since the moment of her death," said Beth Lynch, the museum director of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine museum director, according to the Wall Street Journal. (The Shrine is located in Kateri’s birthplace.)
“She sanctified the ordinary. She wasn't walking on water or casting out demons -- nothing dramatic. She just showed great wisdom and love in everything she did."
“In this day and age, when the pleasure principle so dominates our society and when people expend all kinds of time, effort and energy to remove the cross from Christianity and to escape the sometimes-harsh realities and responsibilities of mature Christian living, Kateri Tekakwitha stands as an heroic example of how to integrate the mystery of the cross with the mystery of the resurrection in a way that gives honor and glory to God and that ensures loving service to His people," Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, DD, Bishop of Albany, N.Y., said of her.