Kateri Tekakwitha, known as “Lily of the Mohawks,” was born in 1656 in what is now Auriesville in the US state of New York, but died while serving the church in Kahnawake in what is now Canada’s Quebec province.
For centuries she has been a symbol of hope for American Indians, despite the grim details of her short and painful life.
Converted by Jesuits, the young woman who was left scarred and partially blind from smallpox devoted her life to God to an extent that stunned even European missionaries.
She died aged 24, after years of self-flagellation and deteriorating health, but according to tradition among some believers her scars disappeared, leaving her skin smooth and her face beautiful.
Tekakwitha was declared “venerable” by the church in 1943 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. Her qualifying miracle for sainthood, according to the Vatican, was curing a boy of a flesh-eating disease.
For many American Indians, especially among the Mohawk and other Iroquois tribes straddling the US-Canadian border, Kateri’s sainthood was already overdue decades ago.
The Vatican needed a certified miracle from the tribeswoman, so followers submitted reports of dozens: everything from healing the sick to levitating a man off the ground and appearing herself, hovering in deerskin clothes.
None of these passed muster. But then in 2006 doctors in Seattle confirmed an astonishing event.
Against all medical expectations, an 11-year-old American Indian boy fatally ill with a flesh-eating bacteria made a full recovery. His parents had been praying for Kateri’s grace.
After five years’ deliberation, this report convinced the Vatican, and Pope Benedict XVI cleared Kateri for canonisation. [More]