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Roman Catholic Church Recognizes First Nations Saint

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Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. Image: LovesMacs
Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. Image: LovesMacs

Last Sunday Kateri Tekakwitha (known as Lily of the Mowhawks) became a saint in the Roman Catholic religion. She is the first North American First Nations saint.

More than 1,000 Canadians attended the “canonization” ceremony, conducted by the Pope Benedict XVI (16th) in the Vatican City in Italy.

Many of the people at the ceremony wore feathered headdresses and beads and sang songs to Tekakwitha.

Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in the area now known as New York State in the U.S. When she was five years old, her Mohawk tribe suffered a smallpox epidemic, which killed her brother and both of her parents. It gave her facial scars and impaired eyesight. She was later adopted by her mother’s brother.

When she was 20 years old, Tekakwitha became a Roman Catholic. Some people from her tribe were angry at her for converting to the religion and life became uncomfortable for her.

She moved to Montreal, Quebec and devoted her life entirely to Jesus Christ. She lived in a longhouse with her sister and sister’s husband.

After her death (in 1680 at age 24) it is said that a miracle happened; the smallpox scars that had covered her face apparently disappeared within fifteen minutes.

Tekakwitha was considered the unofficial patroness of Montreal and of First Nations people in North America.

People started asking for her to be recognized as a saint starting in 1884. The process is a long one, with many steps.

In order for a person to be recognized as a saint, they must have lived a virtuous life. They must also have caused “miracles” to happen. A miracle is something wonderful that happens apparently without any scientific, medical or psychological explanation.

In the case of Tekakwitha, it is said that a piece of wood from her coffin healed a child who had smallpox. Also, a priest was said to have recovered his hearing after he used an item that had belonged to Tekakwitha.

When people heard of Tekakwitha’s healing powers, people started digging up the dirt from her gravesite and wearing it in a bag around their neck. One woman said that it saved her from pneumonia. People who visited her grave reported that they became healed.

It was the more recent healing of a five-year-old boy, Jake Finkbonner, that provided the church with further proof of Tekakwitha’s ability to perform “miracles.”

The boy had a terrible disease and was certain to die. Then his parents began praying to Tekakwitha and pressed one of her bone fragments against his skin. The boy recovered the next day; doctors could not explain how it happened.

Finkbonner is now 12 years old and is an athlete, living in Washington state.

Six other saints were recognized on Sunday, along with Tekakwitha.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Today’s article provides a definition of “miracle” as,

“Something wonderful that happens apparently without any scientific, medical or psychological explanation.”

Do you agree with this definition? How do you define a miracle? Do you believe in miracles?

Reading Prompt: Variety of Texts
A biography is the story of someone’s life. Today’s article includes a lot of biographical information about Kateri Tekakwitha. Do you enjoy reading biographies? Write a short biography about yourself. Share your answers with a small group.

Junior
Read a variety of texts from diverse cultures, including literary texts (OME, Reading: 1.1).

Intermediate
Read a wide variety of increasingly complex or difficult texts from diverse cul- tures, including literary texts (OME, Reading: 1.1).

Grammar Feature: Roman Numerals vs. Arabic Numerals
Roman numerals are a number system that uses latin letters to communicate quantity. The arabic numerals refer to the ten digits 0-9. In the example below, the roman numeral “XVI” is used as part of the Pope’s title. In the same sentence, the arabic numeral “1,000” tells of one thousand Canadians.

“More than 1,000 Canadians attended the “canonization” ceremony, conducted by the Pope Benedict XVI (16th) in the Vatican City in Italy.”

Consider three instances you’ve seen Roman numerals used. Why do you think someone chose to use Roman numerals in those situations?