One Mission, Two Spiritual Traditions: Tekakwitha Conference Brings Native Catholics Together 

posted June 30, 2017

Since Angie Stover began serving as pastoral associate at Sacred Heart Church in 2002, she has been a driving force in bringing Red Cloud parishioners to the annual Tekakwitha Conference. Held in honor of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), a young Mohawk/Algonquin woman who became the first Native American saint, the conference brings together Native Catholics from across the country to explore the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Church. For Angie, it provides needed space for healing and fellowship, particularly for those like her, who remain connected to Catholicism while also celebrating their Native identity and spirituality.

This year the conference will take place in Rapid City—and Angie has served as a core member of the planning committee. She has worked through the year to organize and plan workshops, hosted lunch sales to raise funds so that parishioners can attend, and encouraged youth from across the reservation to attend. As she looks forward to the upcoming gathering, she spoke with us about her hopes for this year’s conference and what leading a “Kateri Circle” has taught her over the years.

“Saint Kateri sought to be an independent woman in the world and to do what she believed was right. She was really a persevering woman: she wanted to be a nun, and they wouldn’t allow her to be because she was an Indian. So she took on the ways of a nun anyway, including the vows of poverty and chastity, in spite of the fact that they wouldn’t let her be a nun. And I find great inspiration in her life.

Part of the mission of the Tekakwitha Conference is to nurture the relationship between indigenous people and the Catholic Church. We have people out there who are hurting, and they really need an opportunity to reclaim their identity as Native people. Historically, we were denied our traditional spirituality, our traditional way of communicating with God or about the sacred. Because our spirits really wanted to reach out to God, they found a way to do that through Catholicism. But something was missing or restricted that didn’t match our culture.

We’ve worked very hard to inculturate who we are with the Catholic Church—to bring our language, music, and culture into Mass, so that it reflects our spirituality. The church is very protective of its ceremonies, and we’re very protective of ours, so finding a common ground to meet in the middle is not an easy thing. But what really helps is to continue to act out of the heart of Jesus. You have to be compassionate and merciful. This conference focuses on the idea of loving one another, through the spirit of Kateri. The whole idea is how we are related, how we love one another, and how do we share that love in our relationships—to each other, and to God.

When you come to this gathering, you’re freed in many ways. Everyone there is like-minded in our approach to life, and there’s a cultural paradigm that we all work out of when we come together. There’s no fear, and you are able to be who you are. We are a people of humor…we like to laugh and joke, and it happens so automatically during this gathering, no matter where you’re from. People come from Alaska, the Northwest, the Southwest, the Everglades in Florida, from all over. It’s a wonderful, wonderful experience, and a place where there is true fellowship.

Really, it’s an opportunity for people to rejoice in the fact that they are indigenous, to rejoice in the fact that God gave them this beautiful culture to express their joy in creation.” 

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School/Willi White '08



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