Judy Smith-Martin waited 32 years for Kateri Tekakwitha to become the first Mohawk saint, and when the Vatican set her canonization for Oct. 21, she knew she had to go to Rome to fulfill a promise.
Kateri Tekakwitha was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II.
Smith-Martin didn’t go alone. She convinced 20 other parishioners and members of her community to go with her, including the Rev. Norm Casey-her parish priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, where Smith-Martin works as secretary. St. Peter’s is one of four Anglican churches that make up the Six Nations Parish, located southeast of Brantford, Ont.
It doesn’t matter that Kateri Tekakwitha is a Catholic saint, said Smith-Martin, who is Anglican. “She’s a Mohawk and I’m a Mohawk. She’s still a saint for the Mohawks. It’s a great honour,” she said in an interview.
Saint Kateri was born in 1656 in Ossemenon, what is present-day New York, to a Catholic Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father. She was four years old when her mother died of smallpox, a disease that Kateri survived, albeit with a scarred face. Raised by relatives, she was baptized at the age of 20 and took refuge in Saint Francis Xavier Mission, near Montreal, to escape hostility to her Christianity. She died in 1680, at the age of 24.
It was “so exhilarating” to be at St. Peter’s Square for the ceremony, attended by about 200,000 people, said Smith-Martin. “We couldn’t believe the number of people from around the world who were already in line when we got there at 6 a.m. Some had been in line all night.”
Smith-Martin managed to get a seat close to the dais where Pope Benedict XVI opened the ceremony. In his remarks, he referred to Saint Kateri as “protectress of Canada and the first native American saint.” He said she had led a simple life and “remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer and to daily mass.” She also lived “a life radiant with faith and purity,” he said. “Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture.”
The Rev. Norm Casey noted that indigenous people from both North and South America attended the ceremony. The presence at the ceremony of Anglicans and traditional people from the Six Nations reserve “…brought us together as one people,” he told the Journal. “We saw it as a way of opening doors between us.”
When Kateri Tekakwitha was proclaimed a saint, there was “a joyous shout,” recalled Smith-Martin. “Apparently, they’d never had that happen before,” she added, laughing.
Smith-Martin said Saint Kateri had “a very hard life” but she managed to rise above it and led her people “to the path of God.” Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” because of her vow of chastity, the story goes that when she died, all the small pox marks disappeared from her face.