Saint Kateri

- July 26, 2012

"Lily of the Mohawks..."

I often read arts-related stories in far-flung newspapers through their online presence and an article in the Albany (New York) Times Union caught my eye earlier this week. It detailed the process by which Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Mohawk woman known as "Lily of the Mohawks," would become a Catholic Saint on October 21.

The connection for me, of course, is the wonderful statue of Kateri in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi here in Santa Fe by Jemez Pueblo sculptor Estella Loretto. The statue in her honor joined the well-known statue of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy in front of Santa Fe’s St. Francis Cathedral in 2002 when Santa Fe’s Archbishop commissioned the statue to honor the Native American spirit. A painting of Tekakwitha also joins a number of other saints on the church's altar screen.

With its rich patina adorned with turquoise jewelry and holding eagle feathers, Loretto’s work speaks to the vibrancy of the life that inspired it 350 years ago.

Born in 1656, Kateri Tekakwitha was brought up in the Mohawk community of Ossernenon, now Auriesville, N.Y., as a member of the Turtle Clan. Her name, Tekakwitha, means "putting things in order." She was orphaned at age four when both parents and a brother died in a small pox epidemic. The disease affected her eyesight and her health and she died at age 24.

Kateri Tekakwitha, will be the first Native American to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church.