Today is the feast day of St. Kateria Tekakwitha. Kateria was canonized by the Catholic Church just five years ago. When I was a child I knew her as “Blessed” Kateri. I also remember that her name was spelled “Tekawitha” without the additional “k”. I suppose along the road to sainthood people sometimes pick up an extra letter or two.
Kateri is an amazing woman. A Mohawk maiden who lived in and around present-day Auriesville, NY (a suburb of Albany), Kateri was converted to the Catholic faith by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. As I recall (and I’m too lazy to Google this in another tab) Kateri received the the grace of being hideously disfigured. Stick with me. You see, she was quite the looker with that sexy feathered headdress and was a style maven even Mr. Blackwell would approve of. The moccasins completed the outfit with perfection. However, a smallpox outbreak when she was a child left terrible scars on her face. I know the feeling. I was on Accutane in my early 20’s.
To refer to this as a “grace” is simply to say that the scarring actually may have helped young Kateri who, following her conversion, took a vow of perpetual virginity for the sake of the Kingdom. Well, as if the unsightly nature of her mug weren’t enough to advance that cause, Kateri was shunned by many in her own tribe for her conversion. She ultimately fled to Montreal to escape persecution and died at the age of 24.
The scars? Miraculously they disappeared moments after her death.
Not only have I visited the shrine in Auriesville but I have visited the gravesite of Kateri on land claimed by First Nations’ Peoples* outside Montreal.
I happen to know at least ten people who have named their daughter’s Kateri so the phenomena that is Kateri’s popularity isn’t simply a flash in the pan.
Her heroic virtue is duly noted and we as both Catholics and Americans are proud to count her among our own. And how fortuitous for us that her feast day falls on the eve of the day we celebrate New Jersey’s independence from Great Britain!
Kateri is but one of a growing number of Catholic saints and blesseds who hail from these shores. Many of that list are typical of the American experience, having been born elsewhere (like Mother Cabrini and Mother Marianne Cope). Many were natives of the land like Kateri and the three other natives whom we venerate. And at least one, Mother Seton, was born on these shores prior to the colony of New York’s Brexit.
Why should you care about any of this?
I’m making cocktails for the Fourth of July! Red, white, and blue Jell-o shots to be exact. As I layer the components I will think of great Americans like Kateri and pray that I do not disfigure myself boiling water for the Jell-o.