I didn’t pay much attention to her then, but did keep her name in the back of my mind for future reference.
A few years later, as I continued to grow in my faith and understand our universal call to holiness as Catholics, I ran across Kateri’s name again. Remembering I had briefly heard her name while at WYD in Canada, I was fascinated with why she was an important example of this universal call to holiness. And so, I looked up her story. And I was blown away and ever since then I have had a devotion to her.
Tekakwitha was her birth name in 1656, a Native American of Algonquin and Mohawk descent. She was orphaned as a young child and was raised by her uncle, who was a chief of her Mohawk village near modern-day modern Auriesville, New York. Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” at age four a small pox epidemic left her eyesight impaired and scarred her face for life.
Growing up, Tekakwitha was considered sweet-tempered and a willing worker, and because she was high-ranking and an orphan, she was given special attention and care. Despite the extra attention, and much to the anger and disapproval of her relatives, she was drawn to the Catholic faith and learned the teachings of the Catholic Church through missionary priests. She converted to the Catholic faith as a teenager and desired to pursue religious life. She was baptized on Easter in 1676 at the age of 20, taking on the name Kateri (Catherine) when she was received into the Catholic Church. Kateri, who was already being given a difficult time because she was refusing to marry, was shunned and abused because of her faith. She escaped through 200 miles of wilderness to Sault-Sainte-Marie, a Christian Native American village, with a letter from the priest who baptized her to the resident missionaries which simply stated: “I send you a treasure, guard it well.”
Among these missionaries and converts, she lived a life dedicated to prayer, penitential practices and caring for the sick and elderly. Every morning, regardless of weather or other circumstances, she would stand at the chapel doors until they opened at 4am and stayed there until the last Mass of the day. She had a deep spirituality and strong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Kateri even took a private vow of virginity on March 25, 1679, after her requests to enter a convent were denied. She died in 1680 at the age of 24, and according to eyewitnesses, both Jesuits missionaries and Indians, the small pox scars on her face disappeared at the time of her death. Her last words, on the Wednesday of Holy Week, where “lessos konoronkwa” (Jesus, I love you.)
The miracle that lead her canonization? The healing of a five year old boy named Jake Finkbonner, who had contracted Strep-A bacteria after falling and bumping his mouth against the base of a portable basketball hoop while playing basketball. This flesh-eating bacteria left Jake fighting for his life two days later and with his entire body covered in bandages. At the urging of friends, the Finkbonners, devote Catholics, and who are Lummi Indian, began to pray to Blessed Kateri for her intercession. On the ninth day of his hospitalization, a relic of Kateri was placed on the pillow next to Jake’s head and his vital signs began to improve almost instantly. Doctors told Vatican officials investigating the miracle there was no clear medical explanation for why his condition turned around on that one day.
All I could say when I first read that miracle story was, “WOW.”
I didn’t learn about Sister Marianne Cope until this past January, when I was researching American saints for a talk I was presenting to teens, to encourage them to live our universal call to holiness and wanted some specific American examples.
Blessed Marianne became a Sister of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York in 1862. She was known for her kindness, wisdom and down to earth practicality. A leader in healthcare, and had a special devotion to caring for those who were seen as outcasts within the medical profession, which led her to the Hawaiian island of Molokai. This island was a place that people with leprosy were sent and forced into quarantine.
Sister Marianne worked with (Saint) Fr. Damien for two years, a priest known for his work with those with leprosy in Hawaii. When Fr. Damien was diagnosed with leprosy himself, Sr. Marianne took in Fr. Damien and cared for him, as he became an outcast because of his disease. She died on the island of Molokai in 1918, at the age of 80.
Little is known about the miracle that has led to Sr. Marianne’s canonization, except that a women’s healing was declared unexplainable as doctors had expected the woman to die and were amazed at her survival. The Sister’s of Saint Francis will disclose details after the pope’s official proclamation of Sr. Marianne’s sainthood.
When it was announced that Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was going to be canonized a saint on October 21, I was thrilled. And then I found out Blessed Marianne Cope was also going to be canonized at the same time, it made me excited for not just me, but for all Americans. And then, well, when I realized this was happening less than two weeks after the start of the Year of Faith, I had to laugh. Yes, laugh.
I laughed because God moves in such amazing ways. He’s given us Americans two living examples of holiness and faith to emulate within the first two weeks of the Year of Faith. God knew we Americans would need more example of living our Catholic faith in the U.S., as our religious freedoms are being chipped away at and as secularism seeps into the fabric of who we are as a country. Kateri, who withstood physical and emotional abuse because of her faith and Sr. Marianne, who cared for the outcast like few ever did, are great examples for our time. And hopefully their examples will lead to us all living lives of holiness and faith, and maybe even sainthood during this Year of Faith and beyond.
To read more about these two new U.S. saints to be canonized, visit the USCCB website page set up focusing on these two new saints.
Also, check out Martina Kreitzer’s ACNM blog post from December 2011 about Blessed Kateri, “Well blessED your heart, you’re a SAINT now.“: