Because Catherine Tekakwitha’s short life, thanks to two contemporary Jesuit biographers, was “more fully and richly documented than that of any other indigenous person of North or South America in the colonial period” (p. vii), he conceived the idea of reconstructing her biography and thus of personalizing one of the great events of world history: the contact between European and Native American cultures. As he necessarily came to grips with his Jesuit sources, however, he concluded that “it is much harder than we usually care to admit for scholars of the twentieth and twenty-first century to understand either Iroquois or European people of the seventeenth century”. The project therefore began to transform into a dual biography,
Yet Greer is never constrained by the biographical genre, and he moves beyond it at numerous points to ponder the broader themes of his subjects’ intersecting lives: “death, spiritual practices, the body, illness and healing, sexuality, and the boundaries of the self” from both Iroquois and French perspectives" . Greer’s narrative begins not with Catherine’s birth but with her death in 1680 at the age of 24. The result of extreme penitential practices, Catherine’s passing upended Father Chauchetière’s view of her, convincing him in retrospect of her spiritual superiority--indeed, her saintliness.
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