More than 800 Native American Catholics are expected to converge on the Albany Diocese next month for the 73rd annual Tekakwitha Conference.

The conference was planned years before the announcement that its patroness, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, would be canonized in Rome this fall. The news will likely attract more conference-goers, but many face the choice between traveling to Albany and traveling to Rome for the canonization ceremony, said Sister Kateri Mitchell, SSA, executive director of the conference.

Sister Kateri said the Albany area - especially Auriesville, Blessed Kateri's birthplace, and Fonda, where she was baptized - is known to Native Americans as "Kateri country."

The Albany conference will include pilgrimages to both sites, liturgies, prayer, cultural presentations, dancing, music and storytelling. Workshops will focus on Blessed Kateri's life and on Iroquois and Mohawk tribal culture.

The goal, Sister Kateri said, is "to affirm and deepen our faith, and also to appreciate and give thanks for all of our cultures. The whole purpose is evangelization through the intercession of Blessed Kateri."

An average of 156 different native cultures are represented at the Tekakwitha conferences, which have been hosted all over the country. The organization is based in Montana.

Coincidentally, Sister Kateri taught at St. Joseph's School in Cohoes in 1963. She received her first name in religion class as a child and decided to use it as her religious name, too.

"It just meant a lot to me and my parents," she said. "I appreciate [Blessed Kateri's] holiness, her walk with our creator and how she overcame many obstacles in her young life."

Sister Kateri, a Mohawk, hopes Blessed Kateri's canonization will bring attention to Native Americans: "There are still so many different tribes in this country. We're still alive, and we're thriving."