First Native American Saint: Kateri Tekakwitha

By Chuck Van Drunen

Born in 1656 near Auriesville, New York, Kateri Tekakwitha (Turtle Clan) was the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and an Algonquian mother.  She was four years old when her mother died of smallpox.  Soon after, her father and brother shared the same fate; the disease also attacked Kateri and, though she survived, it disfigured her face and impaired her eyesight.  She was then adopted by her maternal uncle, a chief of the Turtle Clan.

Kateri Gallup Journey

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in New York.

The Catholic influence of that time was from the Jesuits, who studied Mohawk language and were able to speak of Christianity in terms with which the Mohawk could identify.  Against her uncle’s wishes, Kateri at age 18 met with a priest and started studying the catechism.  She was baptized at the age of 20.

Her life was devoted to the virtues of chastity, charity, prayer, and the spiritual life.  She is quoted as saying, “I have deliberated enough.  For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made.  I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary; I have chosen him for husband and He alone will take me for wife.”

After her death at age 24, witnesses claim, “Her face, so marked and swarthy, suddenly changed about a quarter of an hour after her death and became, in a moment, so beautiful and so radiant that it was observed immediately.”

Kateri is said to have appeared before three individuals in the weeks after her death.

What It Means to Be a Saint? Miracles?
Protestant churches mostly refer to saints as those around them who are still living who share belief. Common vernacular will often term someone a saint for any small gracious action someone does regardless of religious persuasion.  The Roman Catholic church, however, defines a saint as someone recognized for having an exceptional degree of holiness, sanctity, and virtue, who has died and is surely in heaven.  Because there is no doubt that a saint is in heaven, a saint can be asked to pray and intercede to God for believers here on earth.  A common misconception is that saints are worshipped or are actually performing miracles for those who ask for their help.  Rather, Catholics believe that it is God who is performing any miracle, and that the saint is actually a mediator who is praying with you in presenting your requests to God.

There are over 10,000 saints in the Roman Catholic Church.  In order to be a saint there must be at least two verified miracles that are directly connected to the intercessory action of the candidate.

Kateri’s résumé of miracles include the eighteenth-century healing of a young boy, Joseph Kellogg, who was healed from smallpox when Jesuits used a decaying piece of wood from Kateri’s coffin to ask her intercession to God.  Other alleged miracles were the restoration of hearing to a priest, and the dirt from her gravesite was reported to heal many from pneumonia.  Soon, word began to spread that praying to Kateri for intercession with illnesses was effective.  Kateri’s fame was said to reach even to believers in China.

On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI approved the final miracle needed for Kateri’s canonization.  In 2006, a young boy in Washington State survived a severe flesh-eating bacterium.  Doctors had been unable to stop the progress of the disease by surgery and advised his parents he was likely to die.   As the boy is half Lummi Indian, the parents said they prayed through Kateri for divine intercession, as did their family and friends, and an extended network contacted through their son’s classmates.  The boy had received his Last Rites from a priest before the miracle, stopping the disease’s progression, took place.

The process of Kateri’s canonization as a saint was initiated in 1884, and in 1943, Pope Pius XII declared her “venerable.”  She was “beatified” by Pope John Paul II in 1980, and will be an official saint on October 21, 2012.


Kateri Gallup Journey

The chapel at the Gallup Chancery is also dedicated to Kateri is behind the altar at the chapel.

Gallup Involved
Over 70 local residents will be traveling to Rome to witness the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha as the first Native American Saint on Oct. 21 2012.

The chapel at the Gallup Chancery is also dedicated to Kateri.  This image (right) portrayed of her in heavenly glory is behind the altar at the chapel.  The four sacred directions are seen behind her head, the turtle in the lower left shows her clan and the three crosses on the right represent the martyrs of the Gallup dioceses.

For more info on the diocese’s history go to:

Movie about Kateri being made with footage and interviews from Gallup area!
“Kateri is a great role model, source of pride, inspiration and strength for many people throughout the world,” said Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation.

The documentary on St. Kateri will be available for sale on the Salt + Light web store and at select religious bookstores. For additional information or updates, or to learn more about Salt + Light, visit

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