On October 21 of this year the Church will canonize our the first native American woman to be venerated by the Church, Kateri Tekakwitha. In order to understand why she should be canonized we must peel back our romanticized notions of native American life and acknowledge the reality of the world in which she lived.
Her mother was an Algonquin who had been baptized and educated by French missionaries. At the start of a war with the Iroquois she was captured and taken prisoner to a Mohawk village. She was married to a Mohawk man and around the year 1656 gave birth to Kateri (a variant of the name Catherine) near present day auriesville, NY
Her entire immediate family, brother and parents were killed in the smallpox epidemic (1661-63). She herself was weakened and disfigured by disease. It was said that in her embarrassment she would often use a blanket to cover her head and face. While stories vary, it is probable that the women of the village would have taken care of her as an orphan. The one reported keepsake of her Christian mother was a rosary she had given her.
In 1666, the French once again took control of the area and with the soldiers came French Jesuit missionaries. At the age of 20, on Easter of 1676, she was baptized. She moved out of the village 6 months after her conversion, being ostracized for her conversion. She died 4 years later in 1680 near Montreal.
She could have chosen to be angry with God, and especially the God of Christianity, because of all that befell her and her family in her short life. Instead she found strength and with each tragedy held on to Christ even more tightly. Beauty, family, health all gone. And yet her faith would be an inspiration to others for centuries.
How do we respond to the setbacks in our life?
Let's mark our calendars now for October 21 and celebrate this amazing woman.