Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (pronounced [ˈɡaderi deɡaˈɡwita] in Mohawk), given the name Tekakwitha,
baptized as Catherine and informally known as Lily of the Mohawks (1656 – April 17, 1680), is
a Roman Catholic saint who was an Algonquin–Mohawk virgin and laywoman. Born in Auriesville
(now part of New York), she suffered from smallpox as a young child, which scarred her face and
greatly weakened her eyes. She converted to Roman Catholicism at age nineteen and was renamed
Kateri. She settled for the remaining years of her life at the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south
of Montreal in New France, now Canada.
Tekakwitha took a devout vow of perpetual virginity. She was baptized in honor of Saint Catherine of
Siena. Upon her death at the age of 24, minutes after her death, witnesses say her scars vanished and
she appeared radiant and beautiful. Known for her virtue of chastity and mortification of the flesh, as
well as being shunned by her tribe for her religious conversion to Catholicism, she is the fourth Native
American to be venerated in the Roman Catholic Church.
Under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, she was beatified in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict
XVI at Saint Peter's Basilica on 21 October 2012. Various miracles and supernatural events are
attributed to her intercession.
Early life and education
Tekakwitha is the name the girl was given by her tribe. It translates to "She who bumps into things."
Kateri is the Christian name the girl took at the time of her baptism. It was chosen in honor of St.
Catherine of Siena. Kateri Tekakwitha (the name "Kateri" is derived from the French Catherine) was
born around 1656 in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York. She
was the daughter of a Mohawk chief, and Tagaskouita, a Roman Catholic Algonquin woman, who had
been adopted into the tribe after capture. Her mother Tagaskouita had been baptized and educated by
French missionaries in Trois-Rivières, east of Montreal. Mohawk warriors captured her and took her to
their homeland. Tagaskouita eventually married Kenneronkwa. Tekakwitha was the first of two
children. A brother followed.
Tekakwitha's original village was highly diverse, as the Mohawk were absorbing many captured natives
of other tribes, particularly their competitors the Huron, to replace people who died from European
diseases or warfare.
The Mohawk suffered a severe smallpox epidemic from 1661 to 1663. When Tekakwitha was around
four years old, her baby brother and both her parents died of smallpox. She survived the disease, but
was left with facial scars and impaired eyesight. She was adopted by her father's sister and her
husband, a chief of the Turtle Clan. Shortly afterward, the survivors of Ossernenon built a new village
at the top of a hill, a mile or two west up the Mohawk River along its southern bank. They called their
new village Caughnawaga ("at the wild water" in the Mohawk language).
The Jesuits’ account of Tekakwitha said that she was a modest girl who avoided social gatherings; she
covered much of her head with a blanket because of the smallpox scars. They said that, as an orphan,
the girl was under the care of uninterested relatives. But, according to Mohawk practices, she was
probably well taken care of by her clan, her mother and uncle's extended family, with whom she lived
in the longhouse. She became skilled at traditional women’s arts, which included making clothing and
belts from animal skins; weaving mats, baskets and boxes from reeds and grasses; and preparing food
from game, crops and gathered produce. She took part in the women's seasonal planting and
intermittent weeding. She was pressured to consider marriage around age thirteen, but she refused.
Upheaval and invasions
Tekakwitha grew up in a period of upheaval, as the Mohawk interacted with French and Dutch
colonists. In the fur trade, the Mohawk originally traded with the Dutch, who had settled in Albany and
Schenectady. The French traded with and were allied with the Huron. Trying to make inroads in
Iroquois territory, the French attacked the Mohawk in present-day central New York in 1666. After
driving the people from their homes, the French burned all three Mohawk villages, destroying the
longhouses, wigwams and the women's corn and squash fields. Tekakwitha, now around ten years old,
fled with her new family into a cold October forest.
After the defeat by the French forces, the Mohawk were forced into a peace treaty that required them to
accept Jesuit missionaries in their villages. While there, the Jesuits studied Mohawk and other native
languages in order to reach the people. They spoke of Christianity in terms with which the Mohawk
could identify. In his work on Tekakwitha, Darren Bonaparte notes the parallels between some
elements of Mohawk and Christian belief. For instance, the Jesuits used the word Karonhià:ke, the
Mohawk name for Sky World, as the word for heaven in the Lord’s Prayer in Mohawk. "This was not
just a linguistic shortcut, but a conceptual bridge from one cosmology to another."
The Mohawk crossed their river to rebuild Caughnawaga on the north bank, west of the present-day
town of Fonda, New York. In 1667, when Tekakwitha was 11 years old, she met the Jesuit missionaries
Jacques Frémin, Jacques Bruyas, and Jean Pierron, who had come to the village. Her uncle
opposed any contact with them because he did not want her to convert to Christianity. One of his older
daughters had already left Caughnawaga to go to Kahnawake, the Catholic mission village near
In the summer of 1669, several hundred Mohican warriors, advancing from the east, launched a dawn
attack on Caughnawaga. Rousing quickly to the defense, Mohawk villagers fought off the invaders,
who kept Caughnawaga under siege for three days. Tekakwitha, now around 13 years old, joined other
girls to help priest Jean Pierron tend to the wounded, bury the dead, and carry food and water to the
defending warriors on the palisades.
When reinforcements arrived from other Mohawk villages, the defenders drove the Mohican warriors
into retreat. The victorious Mohawk pursued the Mohican warriors, attacking them in the forest, killing
over 80 and capturing several others. Returning to Caughnawaga amid widespread celebration, the
victors tortured the captive Mohicans—thirteen men and four women—for two afternoons in
succession, planning to execute them on the third. Pierron, now tending to the captives, implored the
torturers to stop, but they ignored him. Pierron instructed the captives in Catholic doctrine as best he
could and baptized them before they died under torture.
Feast of the Dead
Later in 1669, the Iroquois Feast of the Dead, held every ten years, was convened at Caughnawaga.
Some Oneida came, along with Onondaga led by their famous sachem Garakontié. Tekakwitha's
parents, along with the many others who had died in the previous decade, were to be carefully
exhumed, so that their souls could be released to wander to the spirit land to the west.
Father Pierron, in a provocative speech, attacked the beliefs and logic of the Feast of the Dead. The
assembled Iroquois, upset over his remarks, ordered him to be silent. But Pierron continued, exhorting
the Iroquois to give up their “superstitious” rites. Still pressured, Pierron departed from the Feast but
returned along with the Onondaga sachem Garakontié. Under Garakontié's protection, Pierron finished
his speech. He demanded that, to secure continued friendship with the French, the Iroquois give up
their Feast of the Dead, their faith in dreams as a guide to action, and the worship of their war god. At
length, the assembled Iroquois relented. Exchanging gifts with priest Pierron, they promised to give up
the customs he had denounced. Garakontié later converted to Christianity.
A chief converts
In 1671, Mohawk chief Ganeagowa, who had led his warriors to victory against the Mohican, returned
from a long hunting trip in the north to announce he had become a Christian. Traveling through the
forests along the southern bank of the St. Lawrence River, he had discovered a Catholic Iroquois
village set up by Jesuits a few years earlier at La Prairie, southeast of Montreal. There he made friendly
contact with priest Jacques Frémin, who had served as a missionary in Mohawk country. Influenced by
the Catholic faith of the Iroquois villagers and of his own wife Satékon, Ganeagowa received
instruction for several months from Father Frémin, who accepted him into the Church.
By the time Tekakwitha turned 17 around 1674, her adoptive mother (her father's sister) and aunt
(uncle's sister) had become concerned over her lack of interest in young men as potential husbands.
They tried to arrange her marriage to a young Mohawk man by instructing him to sit down beside her.
They indicated to Tekakwitha that the young man supposedly wanted to marry her. Accordingly, they
pressured to offer him a certain dish made with corn. Iroquois custom took this as a woman's sign
of openness to marriage. Rather than cooperate, Tekakwitha fled the cabin and hid from her family in a
nearby field. For this rebuff, Tekakwitha's aunts punished her with ridicule, threats, and harsh
workloads. While submitting to their work demands, Tekakwitha stayed firm in her resistance to
marriage. Eventually, her aunts gave up their efforts to get her to marry.
In the spring of 1675 at age eighteen, Tekakwitha met the Jesuit Father Jacques de Lamberville. The
priest was visiting those in the village. Most of the women were out harvesting corn, but Tekakwitha
had injured her foot and was in the cabin. In the presence of others, Tekakwitha told him her story
and her desire to become a Christian. It was after this that she started studying the catechism with him.
Conversion and Kahnawake
Judging her ready, Lamberville baptized Tekakwitha at the age of 19, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676.
Tekakwitha was baptized "Catherine" after St. Catherine of Siena (Kateri was the Mohawk form of
After Catherine was baptized, she remained in Caughnawauga for another 6 months. Some Mohawks
opposed her conversion and accused her of sorcery. Lamberville suggested that she go to the Jesuit
mission of Kahnawake, located south of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River, where other native
converts had gathered. Catherine joined them in 1677.
Tekakwitha was said to have put thorns on her sleeping mat and to have lain on them while praying for
the conversion and forgiveness of her kinsmen. Piercing the body to draw blood was a traditional
practice of the Mohawk and other Iroquois nations. She lived at Kahnawake the remaining two years of
her life. She learned more about Christianity under her mentor Anastasia, who taught her about the
practice of repenting for one’s sins. When the women learned of nuns, they wanted to form their own
convent and created an informal association of devout women.
Father Cholonec wrote that Tekakwitha said,
I have deliberated enough. For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made. I
have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary, I have chosen Him for husband and
He alone will take me for wife.
The Church considers that in 1679, with her decision on the Feast of the Annunciation, her conversion
was truly completed and she became the “first virgin” among the Mohawk.
Mission du Sault St. Louis: Kahnawake
The Jesuits had founded Kahnawake for the religious conversion of the natives. When it began, the
natives built longhouses for residences. They also built a longhouse to be used as a chapel by the
Jesuits. As a missionary settlement, Kahnawake was at risk of being attacked by nations of the Iroquois
Confederacy. (While it attracted other Iroquois, it was predominately Mohawk, the major tribe in
eastern New York.)
After Catherine's arrival, she shared the longhouse of her older sister and her husband. She would have
known other people in the longhouse who had migrated from their former village of Gandaouagué (also
spelled Caughnawaga). Her mother’s close friend, Anastasia Tegonhatsiongo, was clan matron of the
longhouse. Anastasia and other Mohawk women introduced Tekakwitha to the regular practices of
Chauchetière and Cholenec
Claude Chauchetière and Pierre Cholenec were Jesuit priests who played important roles in
Tekakwitha’s life. Both were based in New France and in Kahnawake. Chauchetière was the first to
write a biography of Tekakwitha’s life, followed by Cholenec, in 1695 and 1696, respectively.
Cholenec arrived in New France in 1672, before Chauchetière. Father Cholenec introduced whips,
hair shirts and iron girdles, traditional items of Catholic mortification, to the converts at Kahnawake so
they would adopt these rather than use Mohawk practices. Both Chauchetière and Tekakwitha
arrived in Kahnawake the same year, in 1677.
He later wrote about having been very impressed by her, as he had not expected a native to be so pious.
Chauchetière came to believe that Catherine Tekakwitha was a saint. Jesuits generally thought that
the natives needed Christian guidance to be set on the right path. Chauchetière acknowledged that close
contact with and deeper knowledge of the natives in Kahnawake changed some of his set notions about
the people and about differences among human cultures. In his biography of Kateri, he stressed her
"charity, industry, purity, and fortitude." In contrast, Cholenec stressed her virginity, perhaps to
counter stereotypes of promiscuous Indian women.
Tekakwitha believed in the value of willingly offering suffering. Accordingly, she did not eat very
much and was said to add undesirable tastes to her food. She would lie on a mat with thorns. There was
a custom among some Native American peoples of the time of piercing oneself with thorns in
thanksgiving for some good or an offering for the needs of one's self or others. Knowing the terrible
burns given to prisoners, she burned herself. Her spiritual counselor, Anastasia, seems to have
encouraged her penances. With her friend Marie-Thérèse, Tekakwitha readily took up penances. Her
health had always been poor and it weakened. Marie-Thérèse sought the help of Father Chauchetière.
He scolded the young women, saying that penance must be used in moderation. He told the two that
they must have him approve their penances lest they become unreasonable. Tekakwitha listened to the
priest. From then on, Tekakwitha practiced whatever penance the priest would allow her, but nothing
Friendship with Marie-Thérèse
Upon her arrival in the Christian community, Catherine befriended Marie-Thérèse. They prayed
together often. Marie Skarichions told Catherine and Marie-Thérèse about women religious. Through
their mutual quest, the two women had a strong "spiritual friendship," as described by the Jesuits.
The two women influenced a circle of associates. When they asked the Jesuits for permission to form a
group of native disciples, they were told they were too "young in faith" for such a group. The women
continued to practice their faith together.
Death and appearances
Around the period of Holy Week 1680, friends noted that Tekakwitha's health was failing. When people
knew she had but a few hours left, villagers gathered together, accompanied by the priests Chauchetière
and Cholenec. Cholenec provided the last rites. Catherine Tekakwitha died on Wednesday in the
Holy Week, April 17, 1680, at around 15:00 (3 PM), at the age of 23 or 24, in the arms of her friend
Marie-Therèse. Chauchetière reports her final words were, "Jesus, Mary, I love you."
After her death, the people noticed a physical change. Cholenec later wrote, “This 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 smallpox scars were said to
Tekakwitha is said to have appeared before three individuals in the weeks after her death; Anastasia
Tegonhatsiongo (her mentor), Marie-Therèse Tegaiaguenta (her companion), and Father Chauchetière.
Anastasia said that, while crying over the death of her spiritual daughter, she looked up to see Catherine
"kneeling at the foot" of her mattress, "holding a wooden cross that shone like the sun." Marie-Thérèse
reported that she was awakened at night by a knocking on her wall, and a voice asked if she were
awake, adding, "I’ve come to say good-bye; I’m on my way to heaven." Marie-Thérèse went outside
but saw no one; she heard a voice murmur, "Adieu, Adieu, go tell the father that I’m going to heaven."
Chauchetière reported seeing Catherine at her grave; he said she appeared in "baroque splendour; for 2
hours he gazed upon her" and "her face lifted toward heaven as if in ecstasy."
Chauchetière had a chapel built near Kateri's gravesite. By 1684, pilgrimages had begun to honour her
there. The Jesuits turned her bones to dust and set the ashes within the "newly rebuilt mission chapel."
This symbolized her presence on earth. Her physical remains were sometimes used as relics for
Tekakwitha's grave stone reads:
Ownkeonweke Katsitsiio Teonsitsianekaron
The fairest flower that ever bloomed among red men.
The first account of Kateri Tekakwitha was not published until 1715. Because of Tekakwitha's notable
path to chastity, she is often referred to as a lily, a traditional symbol of purity among Roman Catholics
and one often used for the Virgin Mary. Religious images of Tekakwitha are often decorated with a lily
and cross, with feathers or turtle as cultural accessories. Colloquial terms for Tekakwitha are The Lily
of the Mohawks (most notable), the Mohawk Maiden, the Pure and Tender Lily, the Flower among True
Men, the Lily of Purity and The New Star of the New World. Her tribal neighbors referred to her as "the
fairest flower that ever bloomed among the redmen." Her virtues are considered an ecumenical
bridge between Mohawk and European cultures.
Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha by Joseph-Émile Brunet at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, near
For some time after her death, Tekakwitha was considered an honorary yet unofficial patroness of
Montreal, Canada, and Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Fifty years after her death, a convent for
Native American nuns opened in Mexico. They have prayed for her and supported her canonization.
The process for Tekakwitha's canonization was initiated by United States Catholics at the Third Plenary
Council of Baltimore in 1884, followed by Canadian Catholics. In January 3, 1943, Pope Pius XII
declared her venerable. She was beatified as Catherine Tekakwitha on June 22, 1980, by Pope John
On December 19, 2011, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints certified a second miracle through
her intercession, signed by Pope Benedict XVI, which paved the way for pending canonization. On
February 18, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI decreed that Tekakwitha be canonized. Speaking in Latin, he
used the form "Catharina Tekakwitha"; the official booklet of the ceremony referred to her in English
and Italian, as "Kateri Tekakwitha". She was canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict
XVI. In the official canonization rite booklet, "Catherine" is used in the English and French
biographies and "Kateri" in the translation of the rite itself. She is the first North American Native
American woman to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.
Tekakwitha is featured in four national shrines in the United States: the National Shrine of Blessed
Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York; the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in
Auriesville, New York; the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in
Washington, D.C., and The National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods, an open-air sanctuary in Indian
River, Michigan. The latter was inspired by Kateri's habit of placing small wooden crosses throughout
the woods. One statue on the grounds shows her cradling a cross in her arms, surrounded by turtles.
A statue of Tekakwitha is installed outside the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec, Canada.
Another is installed at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Tekakwitha has been featured in recently created religious works. In 2007, the Grand Retablo, a 40-
foot-high work by Spanish artisans, was installed behind the main altar of the Mission Basilica San
Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California. It features Catherine Tekakwitha, Junipero Serra, St.
Joseph, and Francis of Assisi.
A bronze statue of Kateri kneeling in prayer was installed in 2008, created by artist Cynthia Hitschler,
along the devotional walkway leading to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse,
• Another life-size statue of Kateri is located at the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of
Fatima in Lewiston, New York.
• A bronze figure of Kateri is included on the bronze front doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New
• The Maryknoll Sisters at 10 Pinesbridge Rd, Ossening, NY have had a statue of Saint Kateri
Tekakwitha on their grounds since 1939. It was a gift of the family of Mary Theodore Farley, a
Sister of Maryknoll. The statue honors the Maryknoll Sisters' origins as a U.S. mission
• A statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha was installed in the courtyard of St. Patrick's church in the St.
Stanislaus Kostka parish of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
• A garden section of the Holy Cross Chapel Mausoleum in North Arlington, New Jersey has
been dedicated to the memory of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha and contains a life-size bronze statue
of the saint releasing a flight of doves.
• A Place of Hope Shrine of St. Kateri is located in Paris, Ohio, dedicated by Victoria Summers
(Oneida) to honor the miracles of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
A statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in Saint John Neumann Catholic Church, Sunbury, Ohio
Joseph Kellogg was a Protestant child captured by Natives in the eighteenth century and eventually
returned to his home. Twelve months later, he caught smallpox. The Jesuits helped treat him, but he
was not recovering. They had relics from Tekakwitha’s grave, but did not want to use them on a non-
Catholic. One Jesuit told Kellogg that, if he would become a Roman Catholic, help would come to him.
Joseph did so. The Jesuit gave him a piece of decayed wood from Kateri's coffin, which is said to have
made him heal. The historian Allan Greer takes this account to mean that Tekakwitha was known in
18th-century New France, and she was already perceived to have healing abilities.
Other alleged miracles were attributed to Kateri: Father Rémy recovered his hearing and a nun in
Montreal was cured by using items formerly belonging to Catherine. In those times, such incidents
were evidence that Catherine was possibly a saint. Following the death of a person, sainthood is
symbolized by events that show the rejection of death. It is also represented by a duality of pain and a
neutralisation of the other’s pain (all shown by her reputed miracles in New France). Father
Chauchetière told settlers in La Prairie to pray to Catherine for intercession with illnesses. Due to the
Jesuits' superior system of publicizing material, his words and Catherine’s fame were said to reach
Jesuits in China and their converts.
As people believed in her healing powers, some collected earth from her gravesite and wore it in bags
as a relic. One woman said she was saved from pneumonia ("grande maladie du rhume"); she gave the
pendant to her husband, who was healed from his disease.
On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI approved the second miracle needed for Kateri's
canonization. The authorized miracle dates from 2006, when a young boy in Washington state
survived a severe flesh-eating bacterium. Doctors had been unable to stop the progress of the disease
by surgery and advised his parents he was likely to die. The boy received the sacrament of Anointing of
the Sick from a Catholic priest. As the boy is half Lummi Indian, the parents said they prayed through
Tekakwitha for divine intercession, as did their family and friends, and an extended network contacted
through their son's classmates. A Catholic nun, Sister Kateri Mitchell, visited the boy's bedside and
placed a relic of Tekakwitha, a bone fragment, against his body and prayed together with his parents.
 The next day, the infection stopped its progression.
Mohawk scholar Orenda Boucher noted that despite extensive support for Tekakwitha's canonization,
some traditional Mohawk see her as a connection to colonialism and neither embodying nor reflecting
The historian K. I. Koppedrayer has suggested that the Catholic Church fathers' hagiography of
Tekakwitha reflected "some of the trials and rewards of the European presence in the New World."
Based on accounts from two Jesuit priests who knew her, at least 300 books have been published in
more than 20 languages on the life of Kateri Tekakwitha.
In addition, Tekakwitha has been featured in novels:
• Leonard Cohen , Beautiful Losers (1966);
• William Vollman , Fathers and Crows (1992), second novel of the Seven Dreams: A Book of
North American Landscapes series, includes her as a character, together with French colonists
In an episode of French/Spanish animation series Clémentine, the time-travelling main character
Clémentine Dumant meets and befriends Tekakwitha, helping her to overcome the stigma she bore in
her tribe for both her conversion and her God-given abilities.
Numerous churches, schools and other Catholic institutions have been named for her, including several
Catholic elementary schools in Ontario. Among these are Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Elementary
School in Markham, St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton, and
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic School in Orléans. Saint Kateri is the patron saint of John Cabot
Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga.
The St. Kateri Tekakwitha School in Schenectady, New York was so named after her canonization. The
St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, also located in Schenectady, was founded by merging the Our Lady of
Fatima and St. Helen's churches. A cluster parish was formed in Irondequoit, New York in 2010, taking
the name Blessed Kateri Parish; later changing the name to Saint Kateri after her canonization. Kateri
Residence, an Archdiocese of New York Catholic Charities nursing home in Manhattan, New York, is
named for her.
The St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Valencia, California, holds a statue of her in the church. A
statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is placed at the steps of Holy Cross School at San Buenaventura
Mission in southern California to honor the local Native American Chumash people, who helped build
and sustain the Mission until the 1840s.
Tekakwitha is featured at Camp Ondessonk, a Catholic youth camp in southern Illinois. One of the
cabin units is named after her. She is one of the namesakes of Camp Ondessonk's honor society, The
Lodges of Ondessonk and Tekakwitha