The Lily of the Mohawks

By on in

In 1656, a daughter was born to a Christian Algonquin woman and a Mohawk Chief.  Named Kateri, she began her life in a fortified Mohawk village in modern-day New York State.  At the age of four, her family was struck with small pox; her parents and brother died, but she survived, though she was badly scarred and her vision was damaged.

Now called Tekakwitha, which means “she who bumps into things,” Kateri was sent to live with her uncle.  At the age of eight, following an established custom, she was paired with a young boy, whom she was expected to marry.  However, following her mother’s beliefs, Kateri desired to dedicate her life to God.  This angered her uncle greatly; he was bitterly opposed to Christianity.

In 1666, a war party of French soldiers and a band of Indians from Canada destroyed the Mohawk strongholds along the south bank of the Mohawk River, including the village where Kateri lived.  All those who survived moved to the north bank, where they began to resettle and rebuild.

When she was 18, Kateri began to receive instructions in the Catholic faith in secret.  Though at first angry, her uncle finally surrendered to her desires, with the stipulation that she would not try to leave the village.  Two years later, at the age of 20, Kateri was baptized.  The villagers were enraged by Kateri’s decision; for choosing the Catholic faith, she was scorned, ridiculed and threatened.

After nearly two years of hostility, Kateri escaped from her village and made her way to a settlement of Christian Indians in Canada.  There, she was able to dedicate her life to prayer and cared for the old and the sick.  She became known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” mostly due to her gentleness and kindness.  She was also known for her dedication to Jesus in the Eucharist and love of the Mass.

During the last years of her life, she contracted a serious illness that caused her great suffering.  She died on April 17, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday.  Before her death, Kateri promised her friends that she would continue to pray for them and watch over them in heaven.  Throughout the years, many miracles of healing have been attributed to her.

On October 12, 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha made history by becoming the first Native American to be canonized.  In her short life, Kateri may have faced many hardships, but she never let them stand in her way to Christ.  As Pope Benedict said in his homily the day of her canonization, “May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are.”