Saint Kateri Tekakawitha canonized

Namesake of local Catholic Church named history’s first Native American saint

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  • The new sign.

  • Children from Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in front of a statue of the newly cannonized saint

A group of 80 parishioners from what is formerly known as Blessed Kateri Church in Sparta traveled to Rome last week to attend the canonization of their beloved namesake Kateri Tekakawitha. On Oct. 21, Pope Benedict XVI officially canonized seven people including the Native American. Saint Kateri Tekakawitha’s legacy holds great meaning for Catholics who believe that all faiths can learn from her story.

Saints are an important part of the Catholic doctrine and believed to inspire and help in times of need.

“Becoming a saint means that this person will be included in the canon of saints, and that she can intercede with us as a friend to help us,” explained Pastor Patrick Rice of Saint Kateri Tekakawitha R.C. Church. “It’s a big honor for our church. None of us expected it — it’s been a long time. Also she is the first Native American to be canonized, so it goes back to the origin of our country.”

Born in 1656 in Auriesville, New York, Kateri’s unique background as an Algonquin–Mohawk woman sets her apart from other saints. At 20, she was baptized Catherine Tekakwitha by Jesuit priests and was and informally known as Lily of the Mohawks. She was shunned by her fellow Native Americans because of her conversion to Catholicism.

In addition to her devoted faith and life of chastity, she is known for helping children, elderly and the sick. In time, the Native Americans accepted her piety and when she passed away at the age of 24, they declared “the saint has died.”

The process of her canonization began with the first step of veneration in 1943 by Pope Pius XII. In 1980, Pope John Paul II beatified her. Last December, Pope Benedict XVI finalized the long process by signing off on her canonization.

The Vatican must recognize two miracles before declaring a saint. The first is reported to have happened moments after her death, when her face, which was scarred and disfigured from small pox was said to have miraculously cleared up and become beautiful by the hand of God. This has been long accepted by the church.

In 2006, a five-year old boy of Native American descent from Seattle, Washington was saved from a fatal disease after his parents prayed for the intercession of Kateri Tekakawitha. Doctors have no medical or scientific explanation for his recovery. After a five year intense investigation by the Vatican, it was approved by Pope Benedict that it was indeed the final miracle needed for canonization.

Rice believes everyone can benefit by examining a saint’s life: ‘The story of a saint is how the life of Christ touches people today. It’s a story for young people that it is possible to follow Jesus. The saints are the rock stars and sports stars of our church. Saints are the stories of God.” He referenced NFL football star Tim Tebow as an excellent example of someone who leads a faithful life along with his professional career. “We devalue religion and faith. Making a journey inward gives you focus and direction.”

New signs at the church now read Saint Kateri Tekakawitha. There have been a series of celebratory events leading up to the Rome ceremony.

But for those who could not get to Rome, Bishop Arthur Seratelli will hold a canonization mass at the parish on Sunday Nov. 4 at 11:30 a.m.

Saint Kateri Tekakawitha, 427 Stanhope Road, Sparta 973-729-1682.

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