Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
"Kateri was a child of nature. Her sainthood will raise the minds and hearts of
those who love nature and work in ecology."
+ Bishop Stanislaus Brzana, Bishop of Ogdensburg, New York
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) is popularly known as the patroness of people who love nature, work in
ecology, and work to preserve the natural and human environments. Saint Kateri is the first Native North American
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha’s baptismal name is Catherine, which in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) languages is Kateri.
Kateri's Haudenosaunee name, Tekakwitha, can be translated as "one who places things in order" or “to put all into
place”. Other translations include, "she pushes with her hands" and "one who walks groping for her way" (because
of her faulty eyesight). Haudenosaunee is pronounced Ho-de-no-sau-nee, which means People Building a Long
Saint Kateri was born at Ossernenon, which today is near Auriesville, New York, USA. Kateri's father was a
Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) chief and her mother was a Catholic Algonquin.
At the age of four, smallpox attacked Saint Kateri's village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, and
leaving Kateri an orphan. Although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind, Kateri survived. The brightness
of the sun blinded her and she would feel her way around as she walked.
Saint Kateri was adopted by her two aunts and her uncle, also a
Kanienkehaka chief. After the smallpox outbreak subsided, Kateri and
her people abandoned their village and built a new settlement called
Caughnawaga, some five miles away, on the north bank of the Mohawk
River, which today is near Fonda, New York.
The Haudenosaunee peoples have a deep connection with the land.
They carefully managed natural resources for food, shelter, and
clothing. They hunted, fished, farmed, gathered, harvested, and traded
for their material needs. The Haudenosaunee peoples were keenly
aware of the patterns and rhythms inscribed in nature by the Creator.
Theirs was, and is, a Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEC), developed
from experience gained over the centuries and transmitted orally from
generation to generation.
In many ways, Saint Kateri's life was the same as many young Native
American girls. It entailed days filled with chores, spending happy times
with other girls, communing with nature, and planning for her future.
Saint Kateri grew into a young woman with a sweet, shy personality.
She helped her aunts work in the fields where they tended to the corn,
beans, and squash, and took care of the traditional longhouse in which
they lived. Kateri went to the neighboring forest to pick the roots
needed to prepare medicines and dye. She collected firewood in the
forest and water from a stream. Despite her poor vision, Kateri became very
skilled at beadwork.
Saint Kateri likely had fond memories of her good and prayerful mother and of the stories of Catholic faith that her
mother shared with her in childhood. These would have remained indelibly impressed upon her mind and heart and
were to give shape and direction to her life's destiny. She often went to the woods alone to speak to God and listen
to him in her heart and in the voice of nature.
When Saint Kateri was eighteen years old, Father Jacques de Lamberville (1641–1710), a Jesuit missionary, came
to Caughnawaga and established a chapel. Kateri’s uncle may have disliked the "blackrobe" and his strange new
religion, but he permitted the missionary's presence. Kateri vaguely remembered her mother's whispered prayers,
and was fascinated by the new stories she heard about Jesus Christ. She wanted to learn more about him and to
become a Christian.
Father de Lamberville persuaded her uncle to allow Kateri to attend religious instructions. The following Easter,
twenty-year old Kateri was baptized.
Not everyone in Saint Kateri's family accepted her choice to embrace
Christ. After her baptism, Kateri became a village outcast. Some
members of her family refused her food on Sundays because she
wouldn't work. Some children would taunt her and throw stones. She
was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her
Because of increasing hostility from her people and because she
wanted to devote her life to Jesus, in July of 1677, Saint Kateri left her
village and traveled more than 200 miles through woods and rivers to
the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Sault Saint-Louis, near
Montreal. Kateri's journey through the wilderness took more than two
months. Because of her determination and her undying faith she was
allowed to receive her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day in
Although not formally educated and unable to read and write, Saint
Kateri led a life of prayer and penitential practices. 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.
Saint Kateri's motto became, "Who can tell me what is most pleasing
to God that I may do it?" Kateri spent much of her time in prayer
before the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling in the cold chapel for hours.
When the winter hunting season took Kateri and many of the villagers
away from the village, she made her own little chapel in the woods by
carving a cross on a tree and spent time in prayer there, kneeling in
the snow. Kateri loved the Rosary and carried it around her neck
Often people would ask, "Kateri, tell us a story". Saint Kateri remembered everything she was told about the life of
Jesus and his followers. People would listen for a long time. They enjoyed being with her because they felt the
presence of God. One time a priest asked the people why they gathered around Kateri in church. They told him
that they felt close to God when Kateri prayed. They said that her face changed when she was praying; it became
full of beauty and peace, as if she were looking at God's face.
On March 25, 1679, Saint Kateri made a vow of perpetual virginity, meaning that she would remain unmarried and
totally devoted to Christ for the rest of her life. Kateri hoped to start a convent for Native American sisters in Sault
St. Louis but her spiritual director, Father Pierre Cholonec discouraged her. Kateri's health, which was never good,
was deteriorating rapidly due in part to the penances she inflicted on herself. Father Cholonec encouraged Kateri to
take better care of herself but she laughed and continued with her "acts of love".
Saint Kateri died of tuberculosis on April 17, 1680, at the age of 24. Her last words were, “Jesus, I love You". Like
the flower she was named for, the lily, her life was short and beautiful. Moments after dying, her scarred face
miraculously cleared and was made beautiful by God. This miracle was witnessed by two Jesuit priests and all the
others able to fit into the room.
Saint Kateri is known as the "Lily of the Mohawks" and the "Beautiful Flower Among True Men". The Catholic
Church declared Kateri venerable in 1943. Kateri was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, and canonized by
Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012, thus becoming the first Native North American saint. Saint Kateri’s feast
day is celebrated on July 14th in the United States and on April 17th in Canada. (If April 17 falls on Palm Sunday to
the 8th day of the Easter Octave, which is the Sunday after Easter Sunday, her feast day is celebrated before Palm
Sunday or soon after the Sunday after Easter Sunday.) Pope John Paul II designated then Blessed Kateri as a
patroness for World Youth Day in 2002.
Today, Saint Kateri's tomb is found at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake, near
Montreal, Quebec. Saint Kateri is honored at the National Shrine of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York,
and at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, the birthplace of Saint Kateri, in Auriesville, New York.
Saint Kateri's name is often pronounced as kä'tu-rē. Her Haudenosaunee name, Tekakwitha, is often pronounced
tek"u-kwith'u. Tekakwitha is occasionally spelled Tegakouita. The Kanienkahagen pronunciation of Kateri’s name is
sometimes described as Gah-Dah-LEE Degh-Agh-WEEdtha, Gah the lee Deh gah qwee tah, or Gaderi Dega'gwita.
"I am no longer my own. I have given myself entirely to Jesus Christ.”
+ Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
A video biography, produced before Saint Kateri’s canonization. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
was canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
United States Catholic Catechism for Adults
This painting by Father
Claude Chauchetière, S.J.
(circa 1696) is one of the
oldest portraits of Saint
Saint Kateri portrait by Lisa E. Brown
Saint Kateri, pray for us.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
The Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, Inc. is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization (tax identification
number 46-1437406) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.
Copyright © 2000, 2016 Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, Inc.
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Saint Kateri portrait by Lisa E. Brown
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