SHAWNEE — The monastic community at St. Gregory's Abbey is inviting the public to help celebrate the first feast day for St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first American Indian Catholic saint, on Sunday.
Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), often called the “Lily of the Mohawks,” was canonized in October 2012.
The Rt. Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, abbot of St. Gregory's, said the abbey will host a Blessing of the Four Winds and Mass, followed by a pilgrimage to the St. Kateri statue on St. Gregory's campus. The abbot said the day's activities also will include a gourd dance and an intertribal powwow as the abbey and others honor St. Kateri.
“I think it will be quite a combination — a pilgrimage and a powwow,” he said.
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, Kateri Tekakwitha was a member of the Mohawk tribe in Canada in the 17th century. Her mother was an Algonquin Indian who was a Christian and her father belonged to the Iroquois tribe. Tekakwitha was adopted by relatives when her parents and brother died of smallpox when she was about 4. Church historians said the girl's face was disfigured by the effects of smallpox and her eyesight also was seriously impaired. Although her aunts began to consider marriage alliances for when she grew older, Tekakwitha maintained her virtue throughout her life, which she devoted to her Christian faith, the encyclopedia noted.
Baptized at 18 when a French priest came to live at a nearby mission, she maintained her Christianity in the face of heavy opposition. She died at age 24 and was recognized as a devout woman who spent her life helping others and serving God.
Stasyszen said the monks at St. Gregory's feel a kinship with American Indians because American Indians — specifically the Citizen Band Potawatomie Nation — in what was then Indian Territory granted Benedictine monks from France land near Konawa to build their monastery and start a day school in 1876.
“We came as Indian missionaries so Native American people have been part of our life ever since,” he said.
He said a statue of the saint was installed on the abbey's grounds after she was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1980. Beatification is one of the steps toward canonization. Stasyszen said St. Gregory's University graduates often place lilies at the statue after commencement, paying homage to her informal name of “Lily of the Mohawks” as part of a new tradition.
The abbot said St. Kateri will be honored as a role model and for her contributions to the faith.
“She has a lot to teach us today,” he said.
Also, Stasyszen said Sunday's celebration will provide the monastic community an opportunity to recognize American Indian people “and the vibrant life that Native Americans bring to the church in so many different ways.”
Brother Simeon Spitz, O.S.B., said he is excited that the abbey is hosting the event so everyone in attendance “can experience the beauty and dignity that has produced this great saint.”
“The diversity of people shows the diverse faces of God,” he said.
John Stillsmoking, a member of the Black Feet Tribe of Montana who is also Catholic, said he will be part of a group called the OKC VA Warriors Group Color Guard that will participate in Sunday's program. He said he feels honored to be part of the celebration for St. Kateri.
“Her becoming a saint is a big deal,” he said. “She led an exemplary life and despite all the bad things that life dealt her, she remained true to who she was.”