SHAWNEE — A downpour of rain ended Sunday just as a crowd gathered at St. Gregory's Abbey to honor the Roman Catholic Church's first American Indian saint.
Abbot Lawrence Stasyszen, in his first remarks of the day, said St. Kateri Tekakwitha may have played a role in the weather as the monastic community hosted a celebration for the first feast day for St. Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680).
The saint, a Mohawk Indian, “continues to work miracles, I believe, because she asked the Lord to give us a cool day for a feast day,” Stasyszen said, noting that the sun came out just as a special Mass for the saint was set to begin at the church, 1900 N MacArthur.
American Indian prayers, singing and chants were interwoven into Sunday's celebration which also included an intertribal powwow and Indian tacos. St. Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized in October 2012.
She was born in Auriesville, N.Y., on the bank of the Mohawk River and eventually fled to Canada after being persecuted for her Christian faith by some members of her tribe.
Sunday, St. Gregory's Abbey filled quickly and many people stood outside the church during a special Mass. Stasyszen estimated that about 450 people attended the celebration that began at 3 p.m. and was to extend to about 10 p.m.
The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, presided at Mass.
He said St. Kateri Tekakwitha was a role model for Christians and her distinction as the first “Native American saint from North America” is important because it emphasizes that “Jesus came for all of us.”
After the Mass, a processional led by an American Indian color guard and drummer, Coakley and Stasyszen, made its way to a statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha that sits on the grounds of St. Gregory's University.
There, Andrew Gray, of Pawhuska, a member of the Osage Nation, shared an opening prayer in his native language.
Gray also led a Blessing of the Four Winds outside the abbey, before the Mass.
“This is quite an honor me and for my tribe,” Gray said. “I'm so happy and proud for one of our own to be a saint.”
The monastic community had planned to host the picnic and powwow inside the St. Gregory's University gymnasium because of the rain but decided to host the activities outside on the university's lawn when the rain ended. People sat in lawn chairs, on benches and blankets as a gourd dance was held before the powwow.
Edwin Marshall, of Wetumka, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, said although he is not Catholic, he felt that Kateri Tekakwitha was someone whose life should be celebrated.
“In the spirit of the saints and the original saints — the 12 apostles — it is an honor that a Native American has been chosen,” he said Sunday.
Stasyszen said he was thrilled with the turnout particularly because of the rain early Sunday.
“It's a great turnout, a very diverse turnout,” he said smiling. “We're probably actually exceeding what we expected so we probably have to say a special prayer over our fry bread — that we have enough.”