Local Native American Catholics to witness Kateri canonization

| October 11, 2012 | 1 Comment

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is depicted in this detail view of the oldest known portrait of her painted about 16 years after her death in 1680. It was painted by Jesuit Father Claude Chauchetiere, who personally knew Blessed Kateri. CNS photo /
Courtesy of the Cause of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

When Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is canonized a saint Oct. 21 in Rome, four members of Gichitwaa Kateri parish in Minneapolis will be there to witness it.

“I am very excited that Kateri will be canonized in my lifetime,” said Kathryn Guimaraes, a member of the parish that serves the Catholic Native American community who will be attending the ceremony with Sylvia Spence, another parishioner. “It is awesome that a person from my ethnic background has achieved the honor of being named a saint,” she said.

Deacon Joseph Damiani, who serves Gichitwaa Kateri, and his wife Sandra also will travel to the ceremony. “To be in Rome together with representatives of all the Native communities of the United States and Canada is for me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the spiritual gifts of our people recognized before the whole world,” Damiani said.

Opening a path

Blessed Kateri’s sainthood cause was opened in 1932, and she was declared venerable in 1943. In June 1980, she became the first Native American to be beatified, giving her the title “Blessed.”

In December, Pope Benedict XVI advanced her sainthood cause by signing a decree recognizing the miracle needed for her to become a saint. She will be canonized at the Vatican along with six others.

Members of Gichitwaa Kateri parish have been praying for her canonization for a long time, said Guimaraes, who added that community members have prayed for her intercession because they believe she understands the challenges faced by the Native American community.

“Kateri opened the path for the Native American community. All we have to do is follow in her footsteps just as she followed the footsteps of Christ. She was a truly humble person who loved God and cared about her community,” Guimaraes said.

Blessed Kateri, known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in 1656 along the Hudson River in what is today upstate New York. A Jesuit missionary baptized her in 1676 when she was 20. A year later she fled to Canada and died there in 1680.

She astounded the Jesuits with her deep spirituality and her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She took a private vow of chastity and devoted herself to prayer and to teaching prayers to the children and helping the sick and elderly.

Soon after Blessed Kateri died, Catholics started to claim that favors and miracles had been obtained through her intercession. Native Americans have made appeals to the Catholic Church for her recognition since at least the late 1800s.

“In our community, faith is an integral part of our being. Prayer is a way of life. Everyday we give thanks to our Creator for all he has given to us,” Damiani said. “Kateri Tekakwitha exemplifies this in her devotion to Jesus, God’s greatest gift for all people.”

The six others being canonized Oct. 21 are:

  • Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai. Mother Marianne led a group of sisters from New York to the Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to establish a system of nursing care for leprosy patients.
  • Blessed Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth for men and the Humble Servants of the Lord for women. He died in 1913.
  • Blessed Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit priest who was martyred in Madagascar in 1896.
  • Blessed Carmen Salles y Barangueras, the Spanish founder of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She worked with disadvantaged girls and prostitutes and saw that early education was essential for helping young women. She died in 1911.
  • Blessed Peter Calungsod, a lay Catho­lic from Cebu, Philippines, who accompanied Jesuit missionaries to Guam as a catechist and was martyred there in 1672 while he was in his late teens.
  • Blessed Anna Schaffer, a lay German woman who wanted to be a missionary, but couldn’t do so after a succession of physical accidents and disease. She accepted her infirmity as a way of sanctification. Her grave has been a pilgrimage site since her death in 1925.

Catholic Spirit staff writer Dianne Towalski and Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

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