Lily of the Mohawks

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Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon near present day Auriesville, New York .  Her father was a Mohawk Chieftain and her mother was an Algonquin Catholic convert, initially a captive of the Mohawks, who eventually married Kateri’s father.  During a smallpox epidemic between 1661-1663 tragedy struck her family, with smallpox killing her parents and her brother.  Her face was scarred as a result of smallpox and her sight diminished.  She was adopted by an uncle.

Converted by Jesuit missionaries, she joined the Church, despite opposition from her family, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676.  Fleeing persecution among her people she moved to Kahnawake, a village established south of Montreal by Jesuits for native converts.  There Kateri embarked upon a life of asceticism, although cautioned against going to extremes by her Jesuit friends.  She impressed them by her piety and the goodness that seemed to shine forth from her.  She died young on Wednesday in Holy Week on April 17, 1680.  Her last words were “Jesus I love you”.

Then the miracles began.  First, within fifteen minutes of her death her smallpox ravaged face was transformed into a visage of surpassing beauty.  Within a week of her death she appeared to two of her friends and a Jesuit priest.   Father Claude Chauchetière built a chapel in her honor in the village, and pilgrimages began to be made to it.  In 1884 the Catholic Church in America, followed by the Catholic Church in Canada, opened a canonization cause for her.  On January 3, 1943 Pope Pius XII declared her Venerable and on June 22, 1980 she was beatified by John Paul II.  Today Pope Benedict canonized her as a Saint.

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