Recognized as Saint Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, she has been the subject of hundreds of books, including one by Leonard Cohen.
Her canonization is bitter sweet for native Canadians, for whom the Catholic church has a dark legacy of colonialism, conversions and the trauma of residential schools. The rite marks for many a shift in relationship with the church.
Kateri was born into an Iroquois tribe in 1656 in what is now the Lake Ontario area of New York to a Mohawk father and Christian Algonquin mother. At age 4, a smallpox epidemic left Kateri scarred and nearly blind and killed her parents. Her First Nations name, Tekakwitha, means “she who bumps into things.” Kateri was baptized at age 20, and fled to the Jesuit-run native missionary of Kahnawake, where she devoted herself to a life of chastity, piety and extreme penance that included walking barefoot in the snow and piercing herself with thorns.
She spent her final years by the side of the Jesuits and died in 1680, at the age of 24. Witnesses reported that after death, her skin cleared up, a testament to her miraculous curing powers.
The first saints with a North American connection were French missionaries working in what would become central Ontario, in what was the Huron nation’s land.
The Canadian Martyrs:
Saint René Goupil, Jesuit Novice, (Born in 1608, martyred in 1642). Goupil was a trained surgeon as well as a missionary. On 1 Aug. 1642, he left Trois-Rivières along with Isaac Jogues, Guillaume Couture, and a who’s who of the Huron nation, including several Huron chiefs, among them Eustache Ahatsistari and Joseph Teondechoren. The group, which included about 40 people, set out in 12 canoes for the Huron country where Goupil was to use his skills as a surgeon. It wasn’t long before the group was captured by Iroquois who took them back to their village in what would become New York state, not far from Lake Ontario. There, at Ossernenon (Auriesville, N.Y.), Goupil was killed by an Iroquois’ hatchet blow. The warrior had been provoked by seeing Goupil make the sign of the cross over a child of the village. This was on 29 Sept. 1642.
Saint Isaac Jogues, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1608, martyred in 1646). He is also considered an American Saint as he was killed in Iroquois territory in what is today New York State. Jogues escaped death in his first capture by Iroquois. The first time he was captured, he was tortured and had his fingers cut off. He was freed after intervention by a Dutch trader and returned to France for a time, where he was granted special permission to continue serving communion. The Holy Host or communion wafer is supposed to be only touched with the thumb and forefinger. On 21 Aug. 1646 Father Jérôme Lalemant, the superior of the Jesuits of Quebec, decided to send Father Ignace Jogues to the Iroquois country in order to maintain peaceful relations with the Indians. For an associate he was given Jean de La Lande, who was not unaware of the danger to which he was exposing himself. Jogues, La Lande and a few Hurons left Quebec on 24 Sept. of that year. The little band had scarcely got beyond Trois-Rivières when all the Hurons save one turned back, so impressed were they with the dangers of such a journey. When he arrived in Mohawk territory, instead of being treated as an ambassador of peace, he was treated as an enemy and he was dIspatched with a tomahawk blow to the throat that almost severed his head.
Saint Jean de La Lande, layperson, (Born in 160?, martyred in 1646). de La Lande was sent with father Jogues to the Mohawk country to keep the peace. As mentioned above, they were treated as enemies. The layperson knew the dangers of the journey but when the native escort left, his sense of duty prevailed; he had promised to follow Jogues, and he was going to keep his word. Victims for their faith, they were both killed: Jogues on 18 October, La Lande on 18 or 19 Oct. 1646.
The news did not reach Quebec until June 1647. The Relation, the Jesuit account of their mission in North America, gives a long account of Jogues’ martyrdom. Of his associate it says:
“One must not forget the young Frenchman who was slain with the Father. That good youth, called Jean de la Lande, – a native of the City of Dieppe, as has been said, – seeing the dangers in which he was involving himself in so perilous a journey, protested at his departure that the desire of serving God was leading him into a country where he surely expected to meet death. This frame of mind has enabled him to pass into a life which no longer fears either the rage of those Barbarians, or the fury of the Demons, or the pangs of death.”
Saint Antoine Daniel, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1600, martyred in 1648). He was also working in the Ste. Marie area. Daniel was the second Martyr to die. On his return to Teanaostaye in July 1648, the village came under attack by Iroquois forces. Father Daniel did all in his power to aid the people. Before the palisades had been scaled he hurried to the chapel where the women, children, and old men were gathered, gave them general absolution and baptized the catechumens. Daniel himself made no attempt to escape, but is reported to have calmly advanced to meet the enemy.
“Fr. Daniel, in an effort to cause a diversion, took up a cross and walked towards the advancing Iroquois. Seized with amazement the Iroquois halted for a moment, then recovering themselves they fired on him. Daniel’s lifeless body was flung into the burning chapel. Many of the Huron did escape during this incident.”
Saint Jean de Brébeuf, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1593, martyred in 1649). Brebeuf was captured during a raid by Iroquois on Ste. Marie Among the Hurons, which was a French mission near where Midland, Ontario is today. Brébeuf and his fellow Jesuit Gabriel Lalemant were taken to St. Ignace, near Ste. Marie. There they were fastened to stakes and tortured to death by scalping, mock-baptism using boiling water, fire, necklaces of red hot hatchets and mutilation. According to Catholic tradition, Brébeuf did not flinch or cry out while he was being tortured. The Iroquois later cut out his heart and ate it in hopes of gaining his courage.
Saint Charles Garnier, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1606, martyred in 1649). Father Paul Rageneau wrote an account of Garnier’s death which he received from a Petun Indian who was in the Petun village near where Collingwood, Ontario is today in the hills to the west, called the Blue Mountains:
“In his zeal he was everywhere at once, now giving absolution to the Christians he met, now running from one blazing cabin to another to baptize, in the very midst of flames, the children, the sick…
It was in these holy duties that he met his death, which he neither feared nor avoided by a single step. One bullet from a gun pierced the upper part of his chest and at the same time another bullet went through the lower part of his abdomen and lodged in his thigh. . .
“The good Father was seen very shortly afterwards joining his hands and saying some prayers. Then turning his head here and there, he saw a poor creature about ten or twelve feet from him who, like himself, had just received his death blow but had still some life left in him. His love of God and zeal for souls were again stronger than death. He rose to his knees and, after a prayer, stood painfully and moved as best he could towards the agonizing man to help him die well. . . . Some time later the Father received two blows from a hatchet, one on each temple, that went right to the brain. That was the richest reward that he had hoped to receive from the goodness of God for all his past services. His body was stripped and left naked on the ground.”
Saint Gabriel Lalemant, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1610, martyred in 1649). An account of his death appears in the Jesuit papers called The Relations: Relation:
“At the height of these torments, Father Gabriel Lallemant lifted his eyes to Heaven, clasping his hands from time to time and uttering sighs to God, whom he invoked to his aid.” He “had received a hatchet blow on the left ear, which they had driven into his brain, which appeared exposed: we saw no part of his body, from the feet even to the head, which had not been broiled, and in which he had not been burned alive, – even the eyes, into which those impious ones had thrust burning coals.”
Saint Noel Chabanel, Jesuit priest, (Born in 1613, martyred in 1649). Chabanel was killed in December of 1649, possibly on Christian Island in Georgian Bay, where the survivors of the Iroquois raids on Huron villages fled. Father Paul Rageneau said the murderer, Louis Honarreennha, an apostate, who said he had killed Chabanel because of his hatred for the faith, later confessed his crime.
The eight Canadian Martyrs lived in Canada from 1625 to 1649. They were canonized on June 29, 1930 and are celebrated on September 26 in Canada. Their feast is celebrated on October 19 in the Universal Church.
Other Canadian Saints…
Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, (Born in 1620, died in 1700). Before Marguerite Bourgeoys received official recognition in 1982 as a saint in the Catholic Church, many people had already looked upon her as having the virtues of one. The day following her death, a priest wrote, “If saints were canonized as in the past by the voice of the people and of the clergy, tomorrow we would be saying the Mass of Saint Marguerite of Canada.” Helene Bernier writes, “[P]opular admiration had already canonized her 250 years before her beatification. She co-founded Montréal, was founder of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. She was canonized on October 31, 1982.
Saint Marguerite d’Youville (Born in 1701, died in 1771). Marguerite d’Youville died at the General Hospital in Montreal. She was beatified in 1959 by Pope John XXIII, who called her “Mother of Universal Charity”, and was canonized in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. She is the first native-born Canadian to be elevated to sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is October 16. In 1961, a shrine was built in her birthplace of Varennes. Today, it is the site of a permanent exhibit about the life and works of Marguerite. She is the founder of the Sisters of Charity, known as the “Grey Nuns.”
Saint Brother André, (Born in 1845, died in 1937). (Also known as “Alfred Bessette”) Perhaps the oddest thing about this saint is that his heart was stolen in the 1970s, but was later recovered. He died in 1937, at the age of 91 and a million people filed past his coffin. He lies in the church he helped build except for his heart which was preserved in a reliquary. It was stolen in March 1973 and recovered in December 1974. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 23, 1982. His first miracle cited in support of his beatification was the healing in 1958 of Giuseppe Carlo Audino, who suffered from cancer. He was Brother of the religious Order of the Holy Cross. He built the Saint-Joseph Oratory of Mont-Royal at Montréal.
Three of the Canadian Martyrs – St. Isaac Jogues, St. René Goupil and St. Jean de Lalande – are also considered American saints because they died in what would become the United States.
Other American saints …
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (Canonized 1946) (Born July 15, 1850, Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Lombardy – Died December 22, 1917, Chicago, Illinois). She was a missionary and founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She died of complications from dysentery at age 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, on while preparing Christmas candy for the local children. At the time of her death, she had founded 67 missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor as well as train more nuns to carry on the work. Her body was originally interred at Saint Cabrini Home, an orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, New York.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, S.C., (Canonized 1975), (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821) was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (September 14, 1975). She founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. The Catholic Church says she was dedicated to following the will of God, Elizabeth Ann had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, scripture and the Virgin Mary. It had been her original intention to join the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, but the embargo of France due to the Napoleonic Wars prevented this connection. It was only decades later, in 1850, that the Emmitsburg community took the steps to merge with the Daughters, and to become their American branch, as their foundress had envisioned.
St. John Neumann, C.Ss.R., (Canonized 1977), missionary and bishop of Philadelphia. Neumann’s work to broaden the Catholic Church throughout his diocese did not proceed unopposed. The Know Nothings was an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier Protestant immigrants to North America and the United States in particular. (Many of the early Canadian immigrants came from France and were Catholic). The No Nothings set fire to convents and schools. Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue. On January 5 1860. Neumann dropped dead on a city street of a stroke while on an errand. He was 48 years old.
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, R.S.C.J., (Canonized 1988), missionary to Native Americans. (August 29, 1769 – November 18, 1852) St. Duchesne was a Catholic Religious Sister and French-American saint. She spent the last half of her life teaching and serving the people of the Midwestern United States.
St. Katharine Drexel, S.B.S., (November 26, 1858 – March 3, 1955) (Canonized 2000) St. Drexel was an American heiress, philanthropist and educator. She build schools and was the founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and African Americans.
St. Mother Théodore Guérin, S.P., (1798 – 1956) (Canonized 2006) was a missionary and founder of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was designated by the Vatican as Saint Theodora. She is the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Guerin is remembered for her advancement of education in Indiana and elsewhere, founding numerous schools including Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, SS.CC., (January 3, 1840 – April 15, 1889) (Canonized 2009), leper priest of Molokai. (Dutch: Pater Damiaan or Heilige Damiaan van Molokai) His work in Hawaii is remembered to this day and even Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a letter in support of his candidacy for sainthood.