|Lily of the Mohawks|
The Jesuits’ record of Catherine or Kateri Tekakwitha states that she was a shy and modest girl who avoided social gatherings and wore a blanket over her head because of the small pox that had destroyed her skin as a child. After smallpox killed her mother, father and brother and scarred her face she was adopted by family members. Tekakwitha was very skilled with traditional women’s work, which included making clothing, belts, mats, baskets, boxes, and preparing food, and a part of seasonal planting and intermittent weeding. Pressured to consider marriage around age 13, she would not agree to it and ran away. Although she had to suffer greatly for her faith, the young woman remained devout. Rejected at by her family and neighbours, Tekakwitha went to Kahnawake, the new aboriginal Christian colony in Canada. Here she lived a life dedicated to prayer, penitential practices, and care for the sick and aged. Every morning, even in bitterest winter, she stood before the chapel door until it opened at 4 a.m. and remained there until after the last mass. She was devoted to the eucharist (communion) and to Jesus crucified. Claude Chauchetière and Pierre Cholenec were Jesuit priests who played important roles in Tekakwitha’s life. Both were based in New France, an area which was considered dangerous and unappealing, due to wars with the Iroquois and the cold weather. Cholenec was present in New France before Chauchetière, having left for Canada in 1672. Both Chauchetière and Catherine arrived in Kahnawake in 1677. Chauchetière was the first to write a biography of Tekakwitha’s life, followed by Cholenec Chauchetière wrote that he was very impressed by Catherine. He had not expected an aboriginal to be so pious and he was certain Tekakwitha was a saint.
Jesuits then believed that natives needed the guidance of Christians in order to be set on the right path. Chauchetière says that such close contact with natives in Kahnawake changed some of his set notions about aboriginals – mainly his ideas about human difference.
Tekakwitha died on April 17, 1680, at 24. Devotion to Tekakwitha is responsible for establishing Native American ministries in Catholic Churches all over the U.S.A. and Canada. Hundreds of thousands have visited shrines to Tekakwitha erected at both St. Francis Xavier and Caughnawaga and at her birth place. Pilgrimages at these sites continue today and she is also honoured at the yearly Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage.
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