She was adopted by her two aunts and an uncle. Kateri became converted as a teenager. She was baptized at the age of twenty and incurred the great hostility of her tribe. Although she had to suffer greatly for her Faith, she remained firm in it. Kateri went to the new Christian colony of Indians in Canada. Here she lived a life dedicated to prayer, penitential practices, and care for the sick and aged. Every morning, even in bitterest winter, she stood before the chapel door until it opened at four and remained there until after the last Mass. She was devoted to the Eucharist and to Jesus Crucified. She died on April 17, 1680 at the age of twenty-four. She is known as the "Lily of the Mohawks". Devotion to Kateri is responsible for establishing Native American ministries in Catholic Churches all over the United States and Canada. Kateri was declared venerable by the Catholic Church in 1943 and she was Beatified in 1980. Work is currently underway to have her Canonized by the Church. Hundreds of thousands have visited shrines to Kateri erected at both St. Francis Xavier and Caughnawaga and at her birth place at Auriesville, New York. Pilgrimages at these sites continue today. 
St. Kateri Teckakwitha is the first Native American to be declared a Saint. Her feastday is July 14. She is the patroness of the environment and ecology as is St. Francis of Assisi.

Kateri Tekakwitha (the name "Kateri" is derived from the French Catherine, her baptismal name) 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 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.

Kateri's 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. She was most likely born into the Turtle Clan. (The Mohawk and other Iroquois have a matrilineal kinship system, in which children are born into the mother's clan and take their status from her.) When she was young, her village moved to a different location. The Mohawk suffered from a smallpox epidemic from 1661 to 1663. Kateri's brother and both her parents died, and she was left with scars and impaired eyesight. She was adopted by her maternal uncle, a chief of the Turtle Clan.

The Jesuits’ account of Kateri 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 told that, as an orphan, she was under the care of uninterested relatives. 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 reportedly she refused.

Kateri grew up in a period of constant change 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, destroying several villages and their winter stores.

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 rebuilt on the north side of the Mohawk River at what they called Caughnawaga, west of the present-day town of Fonda, New York. In 1667, when Kateri was 11 years old, she met the Jesuits Jacques Fremin, Jacques Bruyas, and Jean Pierron, who had come to the village. Her uncle was against 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 Montreal.

In the spring of 1675 at age eighteen, Kateri met the Jesuit Father Jacques de Lamberville and started studying the catechism with him.


 

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