THE STATUE OF ST. KATERI at St. Mary's parish in Glens Falls.
THE STATUE OF ST. KATERI at St. Mary's parish in Glens Falls.

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, now called Auriesville. She was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. The story of her life has a lot to do with local New York State history, and also how the Catholic faith was brought to upstate New York from Europe long before our country was founded.

Kateri was converted by Jesuit missionaries from France while she was a young girl. At baptism, she was given the name Catherine. As a teenager, she contracted smallpox; her face was scarred by the disease and she was left with limited eyesight. Her Indian name reflects her condition: “Tekakwitha” means “she who stumbles and bumps into things.”

Kateri’s parents died while she was very young, so she was raised by her tribe. They were often uncaring and vindictive, especially when she became a Catholic. Growing closer to the Jesuits, she took a vow of virginity and undertook rigorous mortifications.

Eventually, Kateri had to move away from the tribe to a safer Catholic community outside Montreal, where she died at the age of 24.

Known for her innocence, goodness and holiness, devotion to her began immediately upon her death and people began to flock to her grave. Long before her beatification, people from all over informally considered her to be a saint.

Our own Diocese of Albany opened her cause many years ago and, very slowly, progress toward her beatification and canonization was realized. I remember, as a student in Catholic school in Schenectady in the 1960s, that we daily prayed for her beatification and eventual canonization.

Not only is St. Kateri “a local girl who made good,” but she is also the first native American to be venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church. At my parish, St. Mary’s in Glens Falls, we are blessed to have a lovely statue of this “the Lily of the Mohawks” in the vestibule of our church.

A few years ago, a priest friend and I visited Canada. I remembered that St. Kateri’s grave was located in a small Indian village just outside of Montreal. With some assistance from old maps and help from on high, we managed to find our way to the village and the church where her tomb is located.

It was an unforgettable experience. I expected to find a glamorous tomb and a glorious church, fitting for a saint. Instead, the church was small, old, worn and garish, located in the middle of a poor Indian reservation on a side street, and her tomb had little greatness about it.

It was easy to see just how poor and forgotten were the church and her shrine, not to mention the people in the community. In the church, a simple marble tomb with St. Kateri’s name on it and the dates of her birth and death stood off to the right — a simple monument for one so great of faith and spirit!

While praying there, however, I began to think about just how right the setting and tomb actually were. After all, Kateri was poor herself; she lived with the poor and died among them. It was only right that she should rest among the poor as well until the resurrection of the dead.

On July 14, we observe her feast day. Pray to her on that day. Let it be a reminder that it was not the rich and powerful whom the Lord called blessed. In His kingdom, things get reversed sometimes: The faithful, the humble and the poor are the greatest.

This July 14, let us celebrate the greatness of one of our own: a fellow New Yorker; a native of Auriesville; a poor, saintly woman of deep faith and love.

(Father Morrette is pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Glens Falls.)