Kateri Tekakwitha was daughter of Kenneronkwa, a Mohawk chief, and Tagaskouita, a devout Roman Catholic Algonquian woman. She was born in the Mohawk fortress of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York, in 1656. Kateri’s mother was baptized and educated by French missionaries in Trois-Rivières like many of Abenaki converts.
Her chieftain father, Algonquian mother and her brother died from a plague and, though the young Tekakwitha survived the ravages of her illness, it left her health fragile for the rest of her life. The Mohawk community inOssernenon was stridently anti-Christian, yet she held fast to the faith of her mother. At the age of 20, Tekakwitha was baptized by Father Jacques de Lamberville, a Jesuit, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676. At her baptism she took the name Kateri, which is the Mohawk pronunciation of the French name Catherine. Tekakwitha literally means “she moves things.”
Those who had charge of her hated the Christian missionaries and Kateri was persecuted because she refused to give up her Christian way of life. “I want to be a Christian, even though I should die for it,” she said. Her foster parents deprived her of all food on Sunday because she would not work in the fields on that day. Beatings, continual criticism, sarcasm and mockery were her constant lot. They tried to force marriage on her but she was inspired to remain a virgin and after she became a Christian she took a vow of virginity.
In time, Kateri made her way to Caughnawaga, a community of Christians. There she led a life of intense Christian virtue until her death in 1680 at the age of 24. Her renown for heroic sanctity soon spread and many miracles have been worked through her intercession.
She is called “The Lily of the Mohawks,” the “Mohawk Maiden,” the “Pure and Tender Lily,” and the “Flower among True Men,” the “Lily of Purity” and “The New Star of the New World.” According to Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik’s Kateri of the Mohawks, her tribal neighbors called her “the fairest flower that ever bloomed among the redmen,” which was engraved on her tomb stone.
Kateri Tekakwitha followed the generation of Saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions, thus bearing out the ancient Christian saying that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” She was beatified in 1980 and canonized on October 21, 2012.
Updated October 23, 2012.