Faith and inspiration: Encyclopedia of saints for today

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha,

Virgin (1656-1680).

Feast Day: 14Jul

We recognize Kateri Tekakwitha as the first native North American saint. Her short life as a Christian was marked with unrelieved suffering. As a Catholic and virgin, the courageous young woman was persecuted by a pagan society that expected women to marry. A member of the Native American tribe of the Mohawk in the American northeastern territories, she lived long before the British colonists decided to sever their ties with their homeland and forge a new nation in the wilderness.

Kateri Tekakwitha was born Ioragode (Little Sunshine) at Ossernon, now Ariesville, New York. Her mother was a Christian Algonquin and her father, a non-Christian Mohawk chief in the Iroquois nation. When Little Sunshine was four years old, smallpox wiped out her family and left her disfigured and partially blind. During the short period of time she spent with her family, her mother probably taught her some Christian prayers and hymns.

After the death of her parents, Little Sunshine’s aunt and uncle adopted her according to ancient custom, her uncle became chief, replacing her father. Because of her poor eyesight, Little Sunshine had to be careful not to bump into things. At this time, she was given a new name—Tekakwitha (She Pushes With Her Hands). From the start, her uncle made it quite clear in anger that he did not like the Black Robes (known as the Jesuit missionaries) for causing his people (the Catholic converts) to leave the village to live at the Sault Mission in New France (Canada), leaving their loved ones behind to take over their duties.

Tekakwitha’s early and young adult years were filled with her persistent efforts to live a chaste Christian life. She had become used to a solitary life and did not wish to engage in some of the traditions of her tribe. Yet, destiny has its own way of bringing people to their true paths, and so it was with Tekakwitha. Father Jacques de Lambertville, a ‘Black Robe,’ catechized and baptized Tekakwitha when she was twenty years old. She chose Catherine (Kateri in her native language) as her Christian name, in honor of Saint Catherine of Siena. Her conversion to Catholicism alienated her relatives and they ostracized her in sometimes abusive and humiliating ways.

After severe persecution by her own native people, especially her family, Kateri fled north, traveling over two hundred miles to the Sault Mission where her Catholic faith flourished. Like many mystic saints before her, including her patroness, Saint Catherine of Sienna, Kateri’s love for Jesus led her to an experience of divine union. The intense love pierced her like an arrow, overwhelming her with a spiritual fire so intense that her heart felt the depth of God’s love for mankind. She was at one with the heart of Jesus, her face aglow in divine rapture.

Her life ended at the young age of twenty-four after extreme acts of penance and mortification. A miracle occurred when smallpox scars disappeared from her face fifteen minutes after her death, and several reported apparitions and fulfilled prophesies regarding Kateri were documented in the years thereafter.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us!

“I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love.” — Saint Kateri Tekakwitha


Bunson, Margaret R. and Matthew E. “Saint Kateri Lily of the Mohawks.” Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012.

Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.

Paponetti, Giovanna. “Kateri Native American Saint-Commemorative Canonization Edition-Rome 2012.” Taos, NM: Captured Moment, 2012.

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