Kateri, called the “Lily of the Mohawks,” had virtually no traditional family support on her Christian journey. By some reports, her Algonquin mother was a Christian, educated by French missionaries.
However, before her mother, father, or baby brother could have much influence on the four year old’s life, all died of smallpox. The disease also left the child with serious facial scarring and partially blind. It was because of the latter she became knows as Tekakwith – “she who bumps into things.”
She went to live with an uncle and aunt, and it was as she was working as a servant in their home that she met the Jesuit missionaries who put her on a path to Christianity. It would be nine years before she was baptized, taking the name Kateri in honor of Catherine of Siena. While her uncle did not oppose her conversion, others in the community were less accepting and began to talk of her as a sorceress. Tensions at home grew when Kateri refused to marry the man who had been selected for her, saying she was not called to marriage.
Finally, Kateri left the village and traveled two months to reach a Catholic mission near Montreal. She worked with children and the elderly, providing tender guidance as her role in the community that became her family. She was only twenty-six when she died of tuberculosis. We know her today as the first Native American to be formally canonized.
No one has a perfect upbringing or is a perfect parent. Sometimes, our faith community is solely people with whom we are joined in Spirit, not blood. In Kateri, we see the power of the unquenchable thirst for Christ, even when those around us ridicule and hurt us as we seek to quench that thirst.
Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it? (Saint Kateri Tekakwitha)
Write a letter of thanks to the person—one of your parents, perhaps, or your childhood pastor or a teacher—who fed your spiritual fire while you were growing up.
We like to think that our proposed holiness is thwarted by our situation. If only we could have more solitude, less opposition, better health. Kateri Tekakwitha repeats the example of the saints: Holiness thrives on the cross, anywhere. Yet she did have what Christians—all people—need: the support of a community. She had a good mother, helpful priests, Christian friends. These were present in what we call primitive conditions, and blossomed in the age-old Christian triad of prayer, fasting and almsgiving: union with God in Jesus and the Spirit, self-discipline and often suffering, and charity for her brothers and sisters.