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The story of Kateri Tekakwitha

By DAVE DELLECESE

On Sunday, October 21, two women from the Mohawk Valley will be officially recognized by the Catholic Church as saints.

One of those women, Kateri Tekakwitha, is not only becoming a saint, but the first Native American saint as well.

Born in 1656 in what is now known as Auriesville, she lost her parents and brother to a smallpox epidemic that ravaged the village when she was only four years old. Adopted by her uncle and aunt, Kateri and her relatives had to move to the other side of the Mohawk River after the French burned down their village, locating in what is now known as Fonda.

"And there she was baptized at the age of 20," said Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the Albany Diocese. "As a result of the smallpox epidemic, she was severely pock-marked in her face and she lost a great deal of her eye sight, so she was impaired throughout her life. When she converted to christianity, she was rejected by members of her tribe because the Jesuits were associated with the French and they had aligned themselves with the English. And then, also, her family wanted her to marry and she took a vow of virginity. And so, because of the bullying, the threats she was receiving, she had to journey two months by foot from the banks of the Mohawk to the banks of the St. Lawrence River where there was a Christian village. And there she devoted herself to the service of children, the poor and the sick."

Due to the ongoing infirmity created by the smallpox, Kateri died at the tender age of 24. While that was in 1680, her legend was carried on through oral tradition and passed on from tribe to tribe through the Jesuit community.

"In 1882, her cause was introduced by the diocese of Albany and it took until 1943 before she was (declared) a server of God, which is one step on the journey to sainthood," Bishop Hubbard said.

Bishop Hubbard was the one who presented the petition of beatification of Kateri Tekakwitha to Pope John Paul II back in 1980. He, along with a pilgrimage of about 200 people from throughout the Albany Diocese will soon be headed to Rome, Italy to celebrate her canonization on October 21.

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