The story of St. Kateri, ‘Lily of the Mohawks’


By Fr. Bill Kneemiller

Saint Kateri: Lily of the Mo­hawks, by Matthew and Margaret Bunson, 234 pages, Our Sunday Visitor, 2012, available on Amazon.

Kateri Tekawitha was born in 1656 in the American northeastern territory of present-day Auriesville, New York. Much of her life was seemingly far from remarkable, as she was a humble daughter of a Mohawk chief and converted to Cath­olicism just four years before her early death in 1680. She held no leadership positions in any religious orders or among her own people. She claimed no worldly achievements and led a humble and quiet life. However, news of her death caused widespread mourning among the Native Americans and the French colonists. In many villages or settlements, the traveler bringing the news stated simply, “The Saint is dead.”

Fr. Kneemiller

The obvious question arises: How did this humble Mohawk maiden have such an effect on thousands of native and French people, and how do we account for the testimony of those who said that her intercession changed their lives? First, we are blessed that Jesuit missionaries (the Black Robes) documented her brief but exceptional life in surprising detail. The Jesuits recognized Kateri’s great love and devotion with regard to her conversion, development and intense love for the sacraments and the church. Authors Matthew and Margaret Bunson chronicled her intense love and experiences, describing her as the “Mystic of the Wilderness.”


Her experiences of mysticism began immediately after her baptism during extended periods of prayer when she had what she described as a “rapturous encounter” with the Lord. Kateri would kneel motionless, totally immersed in prayer in the chapel or even in the snow beside the giant cross on the riverbank. Her praying in the snow is an example of a great penance she undertook as her mystical experiences deepened. The Jesuits recorded that she was in communion with the Lord wherever her daily life took her and “her rapture was evident on her face.” Even with all these experiences, Kateri was not aware of her future role in the history of Native Americans. She would continue as God’s servant after her earthly life was over.

Kateri’s reputation for holiness grew in the last few years of her life, and very rapidly after her death. Within a few months of her death, people referred to Kateri as the “Protectress of Canada,” crediting her with miracles all over Canada. The faithful also honored her as the “Thaumaturge,” the healer of the New World. Some thought that healings occurred simply by touching one of her relics or thinking about Kateri. The Jesuits reported her appearing to them and to several friends — much like resurrection experiences in the Book of Acts.

St. Kateri became the first Native American to be canonized a saint, joining the ranks of St. Juan Diego and St. Rose of Lima as the first indigenous Saints of the Americans. The Brunsons note that a 2003 report of the U.S. bishops stated that about 580,000 Native Americans (about 20 percent of the total Native American population) identified as Catholics. More than 340 parishes in the U.S. serve predominantly Native Ameri­can congregations; St. Kateri is a model of faith for these Native Americans and for all the church.

The St. Kateri Shrine chaplain, Father Tim Lyons, is collecting “healing” requests that he keeps in a special prayer basket before St. Kateri’s First Class relic. Mail any requests to Father Tim Lyons, Shrine Chaplain Office, c/o The National Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, PO Box 627, Fonda, NY, 12068.

(Father William Kneemiller is chaplain at the Kahl Home in Davenport.)

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on