For young people practicing chastity, St Kateri Tekakwitha is an inspirational figure. She was the first Native American to be canonised. Born in 1656, she is known as ‘Lily of the Mohawks’. At the age of 19 she was received into the Catholic Church and took the name Kateri in honour of St Catherine of Siena. Benedict XVI canonised her in October 2012 and we celebrate her feast day today.
Afflicted by small pox as a young child, the disease left her face badly scarred and her eyes badly damaged. When she was 11 years old, she met three Jesuits, who had come to her village as missionaries. From the tender age of 13, St Kateri was under pressure to marry, but she refused. She was aware of her vocation to be a bride of Christ and felt a deep calling to be a perpetual virgin.
When she became a little older, her family became agitated because of her total disinterest in young men. On one occasion, they tried to make a match for her with one young Mohawk, by inviting him to the cabin and asking him to sit next to St Kateri. Then they offered him a meal made with corn, a traditional symbol used to indicate that a young woman is ready to marry. Embarrassed by this charade, St Kateri jumped out of the cabin and hid herself. For her refusal to tie the knot, she was laughed at, insulted and given a very long lists of chores. None of this coercion made her change her mind.
At the age of 18, she met another Jesuit, Fr Jacques de Lamberville, who was a visitor to the village. It was a very auspicious meeting – they had some privacy because the other women were out harvesting corn. St Kateri confided in Fr Jacques her wish to become a Catholic and he took the opportunity to give her instruction in the Faith. Fearing that her conversion would earn her the ire of her fellow Mohawks, St Kateri fled her home and walked 200 miles on foot to a new village in Montreal which was a sanctuary for Native Americans who had become Christians.
She spent the rest of her life in Montreal, and one of the Jesuit priests recorded her as saying, “I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary, I have chosen Him for my husband and he alone will take me for His wife.” She took a vow of perpetual virginity at the age of 23. Not long afterwards, she died at the young age of 24. Those who saw her die, say that only a few minutes after her passing, all traces of her smallpox scars disappeared, her face took on a radiant glow and a smile appeared on her life.
Throughout her short life, she suffered so that she could pursue her calling to be a bride of Christ. St Kateri is the ideal saint for young people who have been marginalised by their peers for wanting to save sex for marriage, and especially for young people who have religious vocations and are mocked for wanting to give up the pleasures of the flesh so that they may give their lives to God.