Very few of her contemporaries knew of the humble Mohawk woman, but her life and legacy shine brightly through the centuries.
In 1695, Claude Chauchetière, a Jesuit priest and missionary to North America, wrote the first biography of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, praising her “charity, industry, purity, and fortitude.” He was impressed and amazed at her holiness and believed her to be a saint during her lifetime. St. Kateri only lived to age 24, and was a Christian for just the last four of those years, but in those short years she had an extraordinary and lasting effect on all those who knew her and countless more who did not.
Three hundred and forty years have passed since St. Kateri died in a small mission village near Montreal. Very few of her contemporaries had heard her name or had any idea who she was, much like the humble Queen who lived in Nazareth many centuries before. Yet, like Our Lady, St. Kateri’s legacy has grown greater as the years have passed. Here are three valuable lessons from her life for the modern woman…
1It's hard to resist pressure and follow God, but worth it.
St. Kateri had a difficult life: She was orphaned at age 4 when a rampant smallpox epidemic killed most of her family, and was adopted by her aunt and uncle. Her extended family took care of her well, until it came time for her to marry around age 13. St. Kateri adamantly refused to get married, greatly disappointing her relatives, who punished her with ridicule, threats, and harsh workloads. Finally, at age 18, St. Kateri met Jesuit priest Jacques de Lamberville and began studying to become a Christian, as her mother had been.
It must have been agonizing to resist the years of serious pressure from beloved family members, especially as biographers say St. Kateri was a mild-mannered and gentle woman, eager to show gratitude to her family. Yet she knew it was not God’s will for her. After her conversion, she said,
I have deliberated enough. For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made. I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary, I have chosen Him for husband and He alone will take me for wife.
St. Kateri’s story is a perfect example of why it’s so important to learn to ignore voices that contradict or distract from God’s call, even when those voices are well-meaning, and instead make space to listen to God’s voice and then steadfastly obey it. Her years of effort were all worth it when she made a long-awaited vow of perpetual virginity on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, in 1679.
2Hard work, done well and offered to God, is sanctifying.
Of the many teachings in Christian doctrine, St. Kateri particularly embraced the concept of offering up pain, suffering, and difficulties to God. She was known to lie on a bed of thorns while praying and most likely would have offered up as sacrifices the hard work of daily life in 1600s Canada.
Centuries later, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross wrote that “thoroughly objective work” is “a good natural method” for holiness, since meaningful occupation can help a woman to attain “an inner depth.” St. Kateri’s biographers commented on her industriousness, and her holy life shines as an example of the value of diligence and conscientiousness in the often hidden tasks of daily life.
3Women can do great good when they work together.
After St. Kateri’s conversion, some members of her village opposed her decision and accused her of sorcery, so she moved to Kahnawake, a Catholic mission settlement locally called “the Praying Castle.” There she found something for which her heart had yearned, perhaps without knowing if it would ever be possible: She found other Catholic women, friends with whom there was a touching of souls, true companions to encourage and urge each other along on the journey. She came under the mentorship of an older woman, Anastasia Tegonhatsiongo, who had been her mother’s dear friend, and befriended other young converts, Marie Skarichions and Marie Thérèse Tegaianguenta, with whom she was especially close.
The three younger women made plans together to become religious sisters and form a convent of Native American women, although tragically these plans did not come to fruition before St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s death. But together, they had a deep spiritual friendship, which greatly influenced those around them and bore spiritual fruit beyond measure or comprehension. Her life reveals the importance of women befriending each other and working together. Women are stronger together than apart.
If you are seeking true and deep community in your own life, you might seek St. Kateri’s intercession, as she surely can understand the longing for real friendship and the joy of finding it.