Today is Bastille Day, when France marks its 1789 revolution. However, July 14 has another feast that is important to Americans, especially New Yorkers, and Canadians. It’s the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the lily of the Mohawks. I discovered her story in Give Us This Day, Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholics. Her life was short – she died at 23 years of age – but it was filled with piety and determination to give herself to Jesus.
She was born near Auriesville, New York, in 1656. Her mother, who was a Christian, was a captured Algonquin and her father was a Mohawk chief. Smallpox took both parents’ lives and left their four year-old child with a scarred face and reduced vision. Her name, Tekakwitha, was an unkind nickname, meaning “the one who walks groping her way.” Her baptismal name, Kateri, is a Mohawk version of Katherine.
The Mohawks frowned on Christians and she feared for her life, so she left her village and walked 200 miles to a mission near Montreal, Canada, where she received First Eucharist.
Kateri dreamed of becoming a sister and of founding a convent but it was not meant to be. Instead, she became ill and died on April 17, 1680. She was canonized in 2012 and is a patroness of ecology and the environment. She is also the first Native American to be canonized.
Like Therese of the Child Jesus, Kateri Tekakwitha lived a short and somewhat obscure life. However, 335 years after her death, we still salute her determination to be a Christian and practice her faith freely. She’s a good reminder to us of how blessed we are in our freedom.