Monday, October 22, 2012

My Sister's Patron, Saint Kateri Tekawitha

My younger sister posted the most poignant story as her Facebook "status" yesterday.  She wrote: "Around 1972, a little Catholic girl read a story about a Mohawk Indian saint and felt an immediate connection.  Her family visited the shrine in Akwesasne and she decided this would be her Confirmation name.   The nuns reassured a baffled Bishop during Confirmation that this was a soon-to-be beatified Native American.  Kids teased her.  Almost 40 years later, today in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will finally make Kateri Tekawitha a saint and [I] will have a legitimate Confirmation name."
Kateri Tekawitha was indeed beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980.  And as of yesterday, October 21, 2012, she is now numbered among the canonized saints of the Catholic Church and she has the distinction of being the first Native American saint.  In lieu of writing about Saint Kateri Tekawitha myself, I thought I'd provide you with links to a couple of website pages that tell all about her life, if you're interested in learning about her.  (Note that the first short biography contains one inaccuracy, saying that she was canonized in 1991.  The second one comes from the national shrine to the "Lily of the Mohawks.")

There is nothing more wonderful than reading about a saint's life and feeling the kind of connection that my sister felt.  My youngest son had a similar reaction when he encountered and was inspired by a saint he'd never known about before.  This was when he was in 5th grade and was being homeschooled by my husband and myself.  During a phonics lesson, we were reading about Saint Dominic Savio, a very sickly and holy boy who was a protege of Saint Don Bosco and died at the tender age of 15.  "He died when he was only 15, and he's a saint?" my boy asked with awe in his voice.  I told him yes.  "And he wasn't a martyr?" he persisted.  I answered again in the affirmative, and I asked him if he'd like to read more about this young saint who'd grabbed his attention. There was only one slim biography that I could find on-line, a used copy of a book that was long out of print, and I ordered it for him.  He devoured it and decided that he would choose the name Dominic for his Confirmation name.

When I was Confirmed, I chose the name Joan, after the very famous Joan of Arc.  I must admit that I didn't feel that deep connection to Saint Joan that my sister and my son had felt to the patrons whose names they chose.  Before I was confirmed, the saint's biography I had been most touched by told the story of the children of Fatima; but it had been several years since I'd read it by the time my Confirmation day came, and I didn't even consider choosing either Jacinta or Lucia as a Confirmation name.  I ended up asking my mother what name she'd chosen, and when she told me it was Joan, I decided to choose that name as well.  So the main reason I wanted to have Saint Joan as one of my patrons was to honor my mother.

Don't get me wrong, I am not at all sorry that I've had this brave warrior-saint in my corner since junior high.  I have no doubt that she's done battle for me against the forces of evil that would like nothing better than to separate me from God.  But in the past ten or fifteen years I have read about the lives of many other saints, like Saint Therese of Lisieux (the "Little Flower"), to whom I feel a deep devotion.  If I could choose today, I would take Therese as my Confirmation name.

But as with everything in life, God knows better what we need than we do.  If there was ever a person who was afflicted with fears and insecurities, it's me.  So I think maybe I've needed a saint like Joan--an exceedingly brave young peasant girl who was called upon by God to lead an army and was martyred in the most terrifying way for love of Him, yet wouldn't deny Him--on my side all these years.

Saint Joan of Arc, pray for me!  Saint Therese of Lisieux, pray for me!  And Saint Kateri Tekawitha, pray for me!

(FYI: My sister chose the Confirmation name Tekawitha, not Kateri--so you can imagine how this might have thrown the Bishop for a loop!)

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