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kateriIn 2012 Americans – especially Catholics and Native Americans living in upstate New York – celebrated the canonization of two women – one a Franciscan Sister, Marianne Kope, and the other a 17th century Mohawk maiden named Kateri Tekakwitha. Today is the designated feast day in the Church for Kateri.

So many streams of thought run through my mind as I ponder Kateri’s life and destiny. I read that “her mother, a Christian Algonquin, was taken captive by the Iroquois and given as wife to the chief of the Mohawk clan, the boldest and fiercest of the Five Nations.” (This reminds me that I know little about the natives that have inhabited my state since long before my ancestors came to America.) Kateri lost her parents and her younger brother to a smallpox epidemic at age four; she herself was left disfigured and half blind by the disease. (Blessed with health and loving family including long-lived parents, I cannot imagine her desolation as a child.) God, her mother’s spirit and the Jesuit missionaries influenced her life such that she converted to Christianity at age 19 although that meant she would be treated as a slave by her village. (Her courage in conversion was monumental.) Fearing for her life, she stole away in the night and walked 200 miles to a Christian village near Montreal where she would be safe. (Amazing!) There she desired to start a religious community but was dissuaded by a priest and so lived out her life in prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of her nation to peace and to God. (How sad that this opportunity was missed for the Catholic Church! How graced was Kateri to know that God meets us in whatever life circumstances we find ourselves!)

Today I am grateful for storytellers who have kept the record of Kateri’s life alive until now. She is a model, not only for native peoples but for New Yorkers like me and others who have come to appreciate the wonderful spirituality of Native Americans and to regret the injustices done to them when others came to this land. May the Great Spirit open our hearts to love the land and all creatures and to reverence one another as members of one family.