Sainthood for Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks

Portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha by Father Claude Chauchetière, S.J., ca. 1696

Catholics and American Indians have a long and complex history with each other, a fair amount of it taking place in this neck of the woods. Early encounters between Catholic missionaries and the native people they hoped to convert were often marked by misunderstanding, mutual mistrust and even bloodshed.

The first European to see the interior of the Adirondacks, for example, was probably Father Isaac Jogues, a French Jesuit missionary whose party was ambushed by Mohawks in 1642 and taken prisoner. Their arduous journey took them through today’s Lake George, which Jogues called Lac du Saint Sacrement. Jogues was tortured and eventually murdered, and was canonized in 1930. A handful of other saints also have history in the Adirondack region.

Now, for the first time, they will be joined by a Native American. On October 21, the Vatican will canonize Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who lived from 1656 to 1680 in what are now Fonda and Auriesville, just south of the Adirondack Park. Tekakwitha, sometimes referred to as Lily of the Mohawks, was the daughter of an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief. When she was four, her whole family contracted smallpox; she was the only one who survived, but her face was badly scarred and her eyesight impaired. She converted to Catholicism at age 18 and devoted her life to her faith, taking a vow of virginity and practicing ritual mortification, until her death at 24. According to accounts that led to her canonization, her facial scars mysteriously disappeared upon her death, and a number of miracles have been attributed to her.

The day of her canonization will be observed at the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda with a ceremony and procession. The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville will hold a Mass of Thanksgiving in her honor.

The New York Times recently had an article about the mixed reaction of Native Americans to Kateri’s sainthood.

To learn more about the history of Isaac Jogues in the Adirondacks, and an annual pilgrimage from Lake George to Auriesville in his honor, read “O Father, Where Art Thou?” from the October 2009 issue of Adirondack Life.

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