Presented by the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center
"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, N.Y.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) is honored as the Patron of people who love nature, work in ecology, and work to preserve the natural and human environments. She is the first Native North American saint.
Kateri's baptismal name is Catherine, which in the Iroquois languages is Kateri. Kateri's Iroquois name can be translated as, "One who places things in order."1 or “To put all into place.”2 Other translations include, "she pushes with her hands" and "who walks groping for her way" (because of her faulty eyesight).
Kateri was born at Ossernenon, which today is near Auriesville, New York, USA. Kateri's father was a Kanienkehaka (Kanien’kehá:ka or Mohawk) chief and her mother was a Catholic Algonquin.
At the age of four, smallpox attacked Kateri's village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother, and leaving Kateri an orphan. Although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind, Tekakwitha survived. The brightness of the sun blinded her and she would feel her way around as she walked.
The illustration to the left is by Lawrence Klimecki, Deacon.
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 in Fonda, New York.
In many ways, Kateri's life was the same as all young Native American girls. It entailed days filled with chores, spending happy times with other girls, communing with nature, and planning for her future.
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. She 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,
she also became very skilled at beadwork.
Although Kateri was not baptized as an infant, she 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 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.
The illustration to the right is by Dorothy M. Speiser.
When Kateri was eighteen, Father de Lamberville, a Jesuit missionary, came to Caughnawaga and established a chapel. Her uncle disliked the "Blackrobe" and his strange new religion, but tolerated 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. Radiant with joy, she was given the name of Kateri.
Kateri's family did not accept her choice to embrace Christ. After her baptism, Kateri became the village outcast. Her family refused her food on Sundays because she wouldn't work. Children would taunt her and throw stones. She was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion.
Because of increasing hostility from her people and because she wanted to devote her life to working for God, in July of 1677, Kateri left her village and fled more than 200 miles (322 km) through woods, rivers, and swamps 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 in proving herself worthy of God and her undying faith she was allowed to receive her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1677.
Although not formally educated and unable to read and write, 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.
Kateri's motto became, "Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?" She 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 always.
The illustration to the left is the one of the oldest portraits of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, by Father Claude Chauchetière, S.J. (circa 1696).
Often people would ask, "Kateri, tell us a story." 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, 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, 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."
The poor health which plagued her throughout her life led to her death in 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 and disfigured face miraculously cleared and was made beautiful by God. This miracle was witnessed by two Jesuits and all the others able to fit into the room.
Kateri is known as "Lily of the Mohawks" or "Beautiful Flower Among True Men." The Catholic Church declared Kateri venerable in 1943. She was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. Kateri was canonized on October 21, 2012, thus becoming the first Native North American saint. Her feast 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 Blessed Kateri as a patroness for World Youth Day 2002.
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 Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York and the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York.
Saint Kateri's name is pronounced kä'tu-rē. Her Iroquois name, Tekakwitha, is often pronounced tek"u-kwith'u. [Pronunciation key]. Her name Tekakwitha is occasionally spelled Tegakouita. See and listen to various pronunciations of Tekakwitha's name at Merriam-Webster online. The Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) pronunciation of her 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
Below is a brief documentary about Saint Kateri narrated by Father John Paret, SJ, Father Victor Hoagland, CP, and Eleonora Centrone. The video was made before Saint Kateri was canonized.
Video © Passionist Press 2005
Special thanks to the Jesuit Community of Auriesville, NY
"In this day and age, when the pleasure-principle so dominates our society, and when people expend all kinds of time, effort and energy to remove the Cross from Christianity and to escape the sometimes harsh realities and responsibilities of mature Christian living, Kateri Tekakwitha stands as an heroic example of how to integrate the mystery of the Cross with the mystery of the Resurrection in a way that gives honor and glory to God and that ensures loving service to His people."
-Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, DD, Bishop of Albany, N.Y.
--Imprimatur: Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, DD, Bishop of Albany, N.Y.
have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, hear us. Jesus, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.
Holy Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.
Holy young virgin, pray for us.
Spouse of Christ, pray for us.
Daughter of Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Lily of purity, pray for us.
Consoler of the Heart of Jesus, pray for us.
Courage of the afflicted, pray for us.
Leader of the true faith through the love of Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Servant to the sick, pray for us.
Great servant of God, pray for us.
Spiritual sister, pray for us.
Guardian of chastity, pray for us.
Reliever of the temptations of the flesh, pray for us.
Imitator of our Lord in prayer, pray for us.
Deliverer of the persecuted, pray for us.
Virgin of patience, pray for us.
Virgin of penance, pray for us.
Virgin most obedient, pray for us.
Virgin most humble, pray for us.
Virgin, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord!
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord!
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Pray for us, O holy, daughter of the Mother of God, that we find Christ through you, Kateri Tekakwitha.
Let us pray. Kateri Tekakwitha who made her mother the Immaculate Mary, Mother of God, and has given herself as the spouse to Christ. Kateri Tekakwitha lead us on the road to Heaven and without ever abandoning us during this travel, as God the Father had guided you in your voyage without ever abandoning you. Through you with your eternal spouse, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Above is a portrait of Saint Kateri drawn in 1717.
Words of Pope John Paul II
at the time of Blessed Kateri's Beatification
St. Peter's Basillica
June 22, 1980
This wonderful crown of new beauty, God's bountiful gift to His Church, is completed by the sweet, frail yet strong figure of a young woman who died when she was only twenty-four years old: Kateri Tekakwitha, the "Lily of the Mohawks," the first to renew the marvels of sanctity of Saint Scholastica, Saint Gertrude, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Angela Merici, and Saint Rose of Lima, preceding along the path of love, her great spiritual sister, Therese of the Child Jesus.
She spent her short life partly in what is now the State of New York and partly in Canada. She is a kind, gentle and hardworking person, spending her time working, praying, and meditating. At the age of twenty she received Baptism. Even when following her tribe in the hunting seasons, she continued her devotions, before a rough cross carved by herself in the forest. When her family urged her to marry, she replied very serenely and calmly that she had Jesus as her only spouse. This decision, in view of the social conditions of women in the Indian tribes of that time, exposed Kateri to the risk of living as an outcast and in poverty. It is a bold, unusual and prophetic gesture: on 25 March, 1679, at the age of twenty-three, with the consent of her spiritual director, Kateri took a vow of perpetual virginity, as far as we know the first time that this was done among the North American Indians.
The last months of her life were an ever clearer manifestation of her solid faith, straightforward humility, calm resignation, and radiant joy, even in the midst of terrible sufferings. Her last words, simple and sublime, whispered at the moment of death, sum up, like a noble hymn, a life of purest charity: "Jesus, I love you."
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View a 360-degree panorama of the Church that holds the tomb of Saint Kateri, St. Francis Xavier Mission. While viewing the panorama, you'll need to follow the arrow to go inside the Church proper. Saint Kateri's tomb is on the right. If you use RealPlayer you can download the panorama and watch it in a larger window. (If RealPlayer buttons block your view, press "Library" then "Now Playing" and the buttons in the viewer should disappear.) The panorama is provided by the website of the Lily of the Mohawks.
The Life of Catherine Tekakwitha website (www.thelifeofkateritekakwitha.net), provided by Diego Paoletti, has a wealth of information about Saint Kateri, including two original Kateri Tekakwitha biographies from the 1600's.
Visit the website of the birthplace of Saint Kateri at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.
Visit the website of the
Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, at Kateri's home,
Caughnawaga ("Laughing Waters")
from 1666, when she was ten, to 1677.
Kateri Tekakwitha - lots of Kateri links.
The Three Qualities of Kateri, an article by Bishop Hubbard. The three qualities are: (1) the reality of the Cross in daily life, (2) fortitude, determination, and conviction, and (3) prayer, the key to life.
Click here for a lesson plan for teachers about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Be patient, it may take a while to load.
Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Maid by Evelyn M. Brown
Kaiatanoron Kateri Tekakwitha, by Fr. Henri Bechard. This is one of the most complete accounts ever written about Saint Kateri. "Kaiatanoron" means "Blessed."
Kateri Tekakwitha: The Lily of the Mohawks by Lillian M. Fisher
Kateri Tekakwitha (Saints You Should Know Series) by Margaret R. Bunson, Matthew E. Bunson
Kateri Tekakwitha: Mystic of the Wilderness by Margaret R. Bunson
Kateri of the Mohawks by Marie Cecilia Buehrle (1954, reissued 1962)
1Joseph Marcoux, S.J., author of an Iroquois dictionary (1853)
2Jean André Cuoq, S.J., author of a vocabulary of the Iroquois language (1882)
The portrait of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha found at the top of this page is by Lisa E. Brown. Lisa was commissioned to paint the patron saints of World Youth Day 2002.
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