Catholics don't have to be experts on Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to be excited about witnessing her canonization Oct. 21 in Rome.

"It's just something that's once in a lifetime. I'm quite honored to be a part of it," said Mary Testo of St. Jude the Apostle parish in Wynantskill.

She'll attend the eight-day pilgrimage to Rome with Rev. Anthony Ligato, the parish administrator, his mother and almost 200 other Catholics from the Albany Diocese.

Mrs. Testo remembers taking a field trip to Auriesville, Blessed Kateri's birthplace, as a student at Catholic Central High School in Troy.

"From that day on, I had a drawing to her," she said. "She went through a lot as a young girl. I feel God put her here for a reason."

Saint's story
Countless Catholics around the world would agree. Blessed Kateri, who was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in the 17th century, was drawn to Jesuit missionaries despite being raised by an anti-Christian uncle. She quietly studied Catholicism and was baptized in Fonda at the age of 20 before fleeing to Canada to escape religious persecution.

Blessed Kateri was known for her devotion to the Eucharist, perpetual virginity, intense penitential practices and care for the sick and elderly. Smallpox scars that disfigured her face are said to have vanished after her death at the age of 24.

Rev. Michael Farano, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Albany Diocese and the coordinator of the canonization trip, said the pilgrimage will align nicely with the start of the Church's Year of Faith.

"Kateri is a perfect example of a young woman who came to the faith under a significant amount of pressure for her not to do so," said Father Farano, who is also pastor of St. Pius X parish in Loudonville. "She stuck with what she believed and was willing to give up whatever necessary. She went through a lot to be able to practice her faith. We have it easy."

Local pilgrims
The pilgrimage group includes 10 priests, three deacons and two women religious in addition to laypeople with a variety of connections to Blessed Kateri. Parishes back home are encouraged to use prayers and scriptural texts from Blessed Kateri's feast day for Masses on canonization day.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard will celebrate Mass in Rome and Assisi basilicas and churches and accompany travelers to religious sites like the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major, St. Peter's Basilica and more.

Anna Marie and Richard Adach, parishioners of Holy Spirit in Gloversville, have been waiting for the trip, "I think, about 30 years," Mrs. Adach said.

Mrs. Adach served as secretary to the late Rev. Joseph McBride, vice postulator of Blessed Kateri's sainthood cause from 1983-90, doing presentations to organizations and schools around the Diocese on the future saint.

We made it
"She was a wonderful person," Mrs. Adach said. "I think it's great that a Native American is recognized. It should have been done a lot sooner.

"I hoped I would live to see it, but I didn't think I would," she continued. She and her husband are 81. "I think I'll be very happy and at the same time very sad that [Father McBride] is not there."

It will be the Adachs' second trip to Rome, but their first time witnessing a canonization. They noted their concern about the amount of walking and standing involved in the trip: The main event will be six hours long with a three-hour wait. A donor has supplied folding chairs that strap onto luggage for the group.

Retired priest Rev. John Cairns is looking forward to returning to Rome for his first time since 1981.

"It will be new," he told The Evangelist. "There will be new things to learn and old things to see."

Father Cairns remembers visiting the Auriesville and Fonda shrines as a child and serving at Camp Tekakwitha, a former diocesan boys' camp in Lake Luzerne, as a seminarian in the late 1950s. As a priest, he's made annual retreats to Auriesville.

"I almost sensed her presence," he said. "It was very calm and serene and peaceful."

Long-time fan
Deacon Chuck Wojton, who serves at St. Joseph's parish in Troy, remembers parish retreats to Auriesville in the 1970s. He's been handing out medals and asking others to pray for Blessed Kateri's cause since then.

"I was pretty elated when I heard," he said. Deacon Wojton and the other deacons going to Rome had special stoles made with Blessed Kateri's image.

The deacon said Blessed Kateri was "a nobody" who "lost her mother and father and was excess baggage for some people," so the canonization will provide "another way for us 'normal people' to look up to somebody" like her.

Father Farano agreed, adding that the event will bring honor and joy to upstate New York and the Diocese. Utica-raised Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai will also be canonized that day.

"My hope would be that people would come away from this [trip] spiritually enriched," he said. "I hope they get a sense of the universality of the Church. You never know who you're standing next to" at a canonization ceremony.

High hopes
Several pilgrims said they hope the canonization will bring Catholics back to the Church, inspire young people to mimic the new saint's purity and put attention on the Diocese.

"I just shake my head a lot about what's happened to our faith," lamented Carol Eckert of Corpus Christi parish in Round Lake. She's going to Rome with her husband, Thomas, and Rev. James Clark, pastor. "Who knows what we would do in [Blessed Kateri's] position? I think it was pretty amazing and brave of her."

Mrs. Eckert was born and raised in Amsterdam and frequented the Fonda and Auriesville shrines. Despite not being a fan of European travel, she's excited about her first trip to Rome: "I know I'm going to have goosebumps from start to finish."