april 17. kateri tekakwitha, whose bravery lowered weapons
Patron saint of ecologists, environmentalists, exiles, loss of parents, people ridiculed for their piety
Lived 1657 to 1680
In Mohawk culture, it was not unusual to wait to name a baby until she showed a distinguishing characteristic. Kateri's birth name, Tekakwitha, translates to "One Who Walks Groping for Her Way," "she who bumps into things" or "she who puts things in order" in Mohawk. She was the daughter of Christian algonquin and a mohawk warrior. When Kateri was four, her whole immediate family died of smallpox. The disease attacked and "transfigured" Kateri's own face: scarring it and weakening her eyes. Several accounts note that a trio of Jesuit priests who lived in her village were slaughtered for having brought the disease upon her tribe.
As a girl, Kateri avoided social gatherings and covered much of her scarred face with a blanket. Despite being betrothed at age 8, she took a devout vow of perpetual virginity. At twenty, she was baptized a christian and she assumed the name Kateri in honor of Catherine of Siena. As a result, her tribe shunned her, stoning her and refusing to offer her food when she abstained from work on the Sabbath.
Every morning, even in bitterest winter, Kateri stood before the chapel door until it opened at 4 a.m. and remained there until after the last Mass. When she had to leave the village to participate in hunting season, Kateri made her own little chapel in the woods, carving a cross in a tree and kneeling to pray in the snow. She also fashioned crosses out of twigs. Kateri put thorns in her sleeping mat and lay upon them when she prayed for the conversion and forgiveness of the members of her tribe. She seared herself in solidarity with prisoners who were burned for their sins. She mixed her food with ashes as an act of suffering.
BRAVERY LOWERS WEAPONS
One day, a young warrior resolved to scare Kateri out of her Christian ways. He put on war paint, wielded a club, and charged as if to kill her. Kateri averted her eyes and did not move. This bravery impressed the young warrior and he lowered his weapon and walked away. "Like the true Indian that she was, Kateri could face death with courage. Any day was a good day to die."
BROWN GIRL WHITENS AFTER DEATH
Upon her death at age 24, witnesses claim Kateri's scars vanished and she appeared radiant and beautiful. As one priest said, "The face so marked and swarthy, suddenly changed about a quarter of an hour after her death, and became in a moment so beautiful and so white that I observed it immediately." Her tombstone reads (woof!) "the fairest flower that ever bloomed among red men."
THE MIRACLE OF THE FLESH-EATING BUG
Kateri was canonized in 2012, following a miracle attributed to the saint in a 2006 case of a boy infected by a flesh-eating bug. At five years old, Jake Finkbonner fell down while playing basketball and acquired what his father mistook for Jake's "first big fat lip." The next day, Jake's eyes were swollen shut. Jake had acquired Strep A/necrotizing facillitis: a bacteria that gnawed on his facial tissues with lightning speed. "It was like the infection had a life of its own!" said the doctor who treated Jake. Drugs and surgery were powerless against it, and Jake was given last rites. A priest suggested that his parents (and by extension, Catholics around the globe) pray to Kateri to intercede. The infection cleared up immediately.