Celebrating the Native American Saint: St. Kateri Tekakwitha

posted on November 16, 2012

by Shannon Grooms

On October 21, 2012, the Catholic Church officially declared the Mohawk and Algonquin woman, Kateri Tekakwitha, a Saint. The Lakota Catholic churches of the Pine Ridge Reservation celebrated this once-in-a-lifetime event by coming together from across the Reservation to share Mass, prayer, and community. The special Canonization Mass and Event took place at the Holy Rosary Church, with Fr. George Winzenburg presiding. Frs. Peter Klink and Tom O’Neill, along with Native American Deacon Gerald Bush, concelebrated. An honoring ceremony and prayer followed the Mass at the statue of St. Kateri on the Holy Rosary campus of Red Cloud Indian School. The community then moved to Sacred Heart Church in the village of Pine Ridge for a meal and further honoring ceremonies.

The Mass combined traditional Catholic and Lakota prayer ceremony. The service began with a special Litany to St. Kateri, composed by Fr. Rick Abert, SJ, for this celebration. The singing of this litany led into the entrance procession, in which members of the various Reservation churches carried banners designed and made for this special day. The Sons of the Oglalas drum group from Oglala, SD drummed the procession into the church. The entire congregation was then prepared for Mass and prayer by a Lakota purification ceremony, an “Azilya” Rite. The Mass brought a strong message of encouragement for all to live our lives with deep faith and courage despite life’s challenges, as St. Kateri had done in her life.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha grew up in upstate New York. She contracted small pox at the age of four which left her scarred, visually impaired, and weak for the remainder of her life. It also left her orphaned, as her mother, father, and baby brother died during the epidemic. Remembering the stories told and songs taught to her by her Catholic Algonquin mother, St. Kateri eventually met a Catholic Jesuit Priest and continued her journey of faith and baptism in the Catholic Church. While St. Kateri faced subsequent challenges in her life, she became a woman of deep prayer and generously devoted herself to caring for the elderly, the sick, and children. Always challenged in her health, St. Kateri died in 1680 at the young age of 24.

Joyce Tibbitts from St. Agnes Church in Manderson, SD, commented on the day’s celebration and this new saint in the Church, “I believe that St. Kateri is a definite role model for all young native women in many ways. Her strength and persistence in teaching her own people in the ways and life of Christ is an inspiration because this reservation isn't an easy place to live. We are presented with many challenges that the rest of the world cannot begin to understand. She inspires me to stand up for what I believe in, pursue my life in the ways of Christ, and live by the gospel. “

If you are interested in learning more about any of the Catholic Churches on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, contact Fr. Peter Klink at 605-867-5491.