December 26, 2011

At the deathbed of Kateri Takawitha, the first American Indian saint

Ever since I learned about the Lily of the Mohawks, she has fascinated me.  I learned much more about  Kateri Takakwitha, daughter of a Mohawk war chief and a captured Christian Algonquin mother, in this article by Brian Fraga.

She will be the first American Indian saint.

During a Dec. 19 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree recognizing the miracle needed to canonize Blessed Kateri, whose intercession is credited with the miraculous healing of a Washington state boy who had been afflicted with a flesh-eating bacteria.

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The young future saint’s parents gave her the name Tekakwitha, which means “she who puts things in order” or “she who advances or opens the way before her.”
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In 1660, when Tekakwitha was 4 years old, smallpox, most likely originating from a nearby Dutch settlement, swept through the Mohawk settlement, killing many members of the tribe, who had never been exposed to the disease.

Tekakwitha’s father, mother and a young brother died in the epidemic. Tekakwitha also became deathly ill, but she was nursed back to health by the Mohawk matrons. However, the disease damaged her sight and scarred her face.
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“Her prayer life was so strong and very deep,” said Sister Kateri Mitchell. “She is definitely a model for us of what it means to be a follower of Christ. She radiated that. She lived out her strong convictions and her strong relationship with God to follow that sacred path one day at a time, despite her own weaknesses.”

Kateri Dorothyspencer

Watercolor by Dorothy M. Speiser
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In time, she took vows as a woman religious.

However, a year later, she fell fatally ill. She died on Wednesday of Holy Week, April 17, 1680. Her last words were Iesos konoronkwa (“Jesus, I love you.”).

Those gathered around her said her body suddenly took on a brilliant radiance. The mourners watched in astonishment as the scars disappeared from her face.

Jesuit Father Pierre Cholenec, a witness at her deathbed, later wrote that at the time of her death Kateri’s face, “so disfigured and so swarthy in life, suddenly changed about 15 minutes after her death, and in an instant became so beautiful and so fair that just as soon as I saw it (I was praying by her side) I let out a yell, I was so astonished....”

More on Father Pierre Cholenac's testimony

....and I sent for the priest who was working at the repository for the Holy Thursday service. At the news of this prodigy, he came running along with some people who were with him. We then had the time to contemplate this marvel right up to the time of her burial. I frankly admit that my first thought at the time was that Catherine could well have entered heaven at that moment and that she had -- as a preview -- already received in her virginal body a small indication of the glory of which her soul had taken possession in Heaven. Two Frenchmen from La Prairie de la Magdeleine came to the Sault on Thursday to be present at the service. They were passing by Catherine's cabin where, seing a woman lying on her mat and with such a beautiful and radiant face, they said to each other, Look at this young woman sleeping so peacefully and kept going. But, learning the next lminute that it was a dead body, and that of Catherine, they returned to the cabin and went down on their knees to recommend themselves to her prayers. After having satisfied their devotion for having seen such a wonderful scene, they wished to show their veneration for the dead girl by constructing then and there a coffin to hold such cherished remains
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 26, 2011 11:44 PM | Permalink