October 19, 2012


Two new U.S. saints

The United States will get two new saints this Sunday when Pope Benedict XVI canonizes Kateri Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope. That will bring to 11 the number of U.S. saints. The others, in the order in which they were canonized, are:

  • Jesuit Fathers Isaac Jogues and Jean de Lalande, two of the eight North American martyrs killed by Mohawk Indians. The others, led by Jesuit Father John de Brebeuf, were killed in Canada;
  • Frances Xavier Cabrini, a religious sister who founded hospitals and orphan asylums in eight American countries plus several in Europe;
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton, wife, mother and founder of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul;
  • John Neumann, bishop of Philadelphia;
  • Rose Philippine Duchesne, Society of the Sacred Heart missionary in St. Louis;
  • Katharine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, and Xavier University in New Orleans;
  • Indiana’s own Mother Theodore Guérin, missionary and founder of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods; and
  • Damien de Veuster, the leper priest of Molokai, Hawaii.

Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in the same Mohawk village, near Auriesville, N.Y., where Isaac Jogues and Jean de Lalande were killed 10 years earlier. She was the daughter of a Mohawk chief. Her mother was a Christian, an Algonquin Indian who had been captured during a raid by the Mohawks on her village.

When Tekakwitha was 4, her parents died from smallpox. Tekakwitha caught it, too. She survived, but the illness left her severely pockmarked and half blind.

Since the murder of the eight Jesuit martyrs, missionaries had stayed away from Mohawk territory. But the Mohawk chiefs approved a peace treaty in 1667, and the Jesuits decided to make another attempt to convert the Indians.

One day, as Father Jacques de Lamberville passed Tekakwitha’s longhouse, he felt compelled to go in. Tekakwitha welcomed him and told him about her Christian mother. She said that she wanted to become a Christian. Father Lamberville gave her instructions, and baptized her on Easter Sunday of 1676. She took the Christian name Catherine, or Kateri, in honor of St. Catherine of Siena.

After her baptism, Father Lamberville thought it was important to get Kateri to the St. Francis Xavier Indian Mission at Sault St. Louis in Canada. In 1677, he worked with some Christian Indians to take her there. Her uncle chased them in a canoe, but was unable to catch them.

Kateri was ecstatically happy at Sault Mission. She deepened her piety as well as her penances, and her reputation for sanctity grew. However, she was not to live long. She died on April 17, 1680, with the names of Jesus and Mary on her lips. She was only 24.

Native Americans have waited a long time for Kateri Tekakwitha to be canonized. She was beatified 32 years ago.

Marianne Cope was the provincial of the Third Order of St. Francis in Syracuse, N.Y., when a priest representing the vicar apostolic of Hawaii sent letters to more than 50 religious congregations, including Mother Marianne’s, seeking sisters to work with Father Damien de Veuster in the leper colony of Molokai, Hawaii, 10 years after Father Damien arrived there.

Mother Marianne was the only one who replied, but she did so enthusiastically, saying, “My interest is awakened, and I feel an irresistible force drawing me to follow this call.” She spent 35 years there.

She and six other sisters began their work in 1883. By 1888, Mother Marianne had opened a general hospital on Maui, a home for healthy girls of leprous parents on Oahu, and a home for homeless women and girls with leprosy on Molokai.

After Father Damien’s death in 1889, Mother Marianne cared for his boys as well as for her girls. She always insisted on strict sanitary procedures, and no sister ever contracted the contagious Hansen’s disease.

She died on Molokai in 1918 when she was 80.

The United States now has two blessed—Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, and Redemptorist Father Francis Xavier Seelos, a renowned preacher.

Fifteen people are now venerable, and there are 74 servants of God, including Simon Bruté, the first bishop of Vincennes.

—John F. Fink

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