SYRACUSE, N.Y. (RNS)
Sister Kateri Mitchell was born and raised on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation along the St. Lawrence River. She grew up hearing stories about Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th-century Mohawk woman who was declared a saint in the Roman Catholic Church on Oct. 21.
She has long admired Tekakwitha for her steadfast faith and her ability to bridge Native American spirituality with Catholic traditions. In 1961, Mitchell joined the Sisters of St. Anne, and since 1998 she has served as executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference in Great Falls, Mont., a group that has spread Tekakwitha’s story and prayed for her canonization since 1939.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” she said of the canonization at the Vatican. “It’s a great validation.”
Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and an Algonquin/Christian mother in a Mohawk village in what is now Auriesville, N.Y. When she was 4, her parents and a younger brother died in a smallpox epidemic. The illness left her scarred and nearly blind.
She was baptized by a Jesuit missionary in 1676. She committed herself to Christianity and a life of virginity, practicing extreme acts of religious devotion, including self-flagellation. She died in what is now Montreal in 1680 at age 24.
Calls for her recognition as a saint date to her death. According to the Vatican, prayers to Tekakwitha for her intercession were responsible for the inexplicable cure of a 6-year-old Native American boy in 2006 in Washington state who developed a flesh-eating virus after an injury.
Tekakwitha is the first Native American named a Catholic saint.