Iroquois Virgin: 1656-1680
"Lily of the Mohawks"
"Genevieve of New France"
by Fr. N. V. Burtin, OMI

Part Three:
[8]     [9]

Chapter 8

One might say that Kateri's life was a continual round of illnesses from her earliest age. She did not worry about the soreness she had felt in her eyes from the age of four, or her almost constant headaches and her stomachaches accompanied by vomiting in what she thought to be the last year of her life. Her joy in being away from Iroquois country and the Heavenly consolations God filled her with made her count her sufferings as nothing, while her diligence at work greatly shortened her days. Her cheerful, smiling face made people think she was no longer suffering the worst of her ailments.

    Nonetheless, her infirmities were ever on the increase. Kateri was attacked by a slow fever, which made her lethargic. But the more her flesh weakened within her, the more her strength of soul increased, and she thought only of the means she had to take in order to please God and acquire holiness. She consoled herself by the pious conversations she had with Theresa and Anastasia, her two friends with whom she was in perfect conformity of sentiment. They would talk about the love of Our Lord Jesus, about His Passion and Death, and the goodness He shows in giving Himself to us in Holy Communion.

    In spite of her sufferings, Kateri devoted a considerable portion of every day to prayer and spent a great part of the day in church, kneeling motionless or resting on the bench when she could not do otherwise. By the tears that bathed her face, one could see the ardent sentiments that were filling up her heart.

    Kateri had a great devotion to Jesus Crucified. She always wore a Crucifix around her neck and would kiss it night and day with an admirable expression of love. It is not enough to say that she wore a cross around her neck: she wore the mortification of Christ throughout her entire body, as Saint Paul the Apostle says. It would be difficult to find greater innocence of morals combined with such a great austerity of life. Kateri afflicted her flesh with vigils, work, cold, hunger, iron and fire, scourgings and metal belts. One day she asked her friend Anastasia what she thought would be the greatest torment someone might offer to God in order to bear witness to one's love for him. "It is fire," her friend replied.

      "That is my opinion, too," Kateri said. And that night, while the others were sleeping in the cabin, she burned her legs in the same way the Indians were accustomed to burning their prisoners. Then she went immediately to the chapel door and offered these remarkable signs of her willing servitude to Christ.

     One day Kateri heard that some Saints had rolled their bodies naked among thorns, so she went into the woods and gathered some large thorn branches. That night, after praying for a long time as was her custom, she spread these thorns on her bed and rolled herself in them for part of the night, thinking about the Passion of Christ. She did this again four nights in a row, but it was making her body extremely thin.

    No matter how much care Kateri took in hiding this practice of penance so that God alone would see it, her friend Theresa noticed it and reproached her. She told Kateri that she was going too far, that it was sinful to impose such penances on herself without her Confessor's advice. Since even the shadow of sin frightened her, Kateri hastened to go and admit her fault to the missionary. While admiring her act in itself, he reproached her and ordered her to throw the thorns in the fire. She obeyed him without delay, making a more meritorious sacrifice by this act of renouncement of her own will than by enduring great bodily sufferings.

    Kateri's humility was no less admirable than her obedience. Although she earned the admiration of all, she regarded herself as the vilest of creatures. She strove to hide the extraordinary favors God filled her with, and she would blush over the slightest word of praise spoken to her. She held others in esteem as much as she scorned herself, and she was never heard denigrating or criticizing others or saying anything bad about anyone.

    Although her health was weak, Kateri's face was always serene. She endured all the sufferings and the long fever that preceded her death with great calm. Mistress of herself, she put up with the disputes, quarrels, reproaches and harshness of those near to her with an invincible patience. In only one circumstance had she allowed a certain emotion to show: this was when they had wanted her to get married against her will.

    Above all, Kateri was distinguished by an angelic chastity which caused her never to feel the sentiment of impure passion, either in her body or in her soul. When she was questioned on this subject on the eve of her death, Kateri positively affirmed it and attributed this remarkable favor to the Queen of Virgins, Whom she had chosen as her Mother when she first learned about Her. She had resolved to imitate Her, and she gave Her the most ardent love all her life. Kateri always bore Mary in her heart; Her name was frequently on her lips; she was always praising Her and saying the Rosary with devotion, celebrating Her feast days with extraordinary piety and preparing for them by prayer and mortification. This is the abridged portrait of her virtues drawn up by Fr. Chollenec, one of her Confessors. Fr. Chauchetière enters into greater detail, but what we have said is enough to give everyone an idea of this holy young woman's merit-filled life.

    Where did Kateri get her courage, fervor and devotion? Her biographers tell us that she drew all her virtues from the source of the living waters of grace, the one which the Savior of the world opened up for us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. She received It often after preparing herself with care, savoring new delights at the very source of all delight. She preserved the memory of the Blessed Sacrament, not forgetting It even in the midst of her greatest sufferings. Kateri was pleased to pay Him frequent visits when she was in good health. And even during her illness, she was seen dragging herself all the way to the chapel in order to make her fervent prayers. Holy Communion operated a total transformation within her soul and filled her with the thoughts, affections and sentiments of our Lord Jesus. No longer did she live her life, but rather, the life of Christ.

Chapter 9

The progress of Kateri's illness became more and more alarming. On Palm Sunday, 1680, it was agreed that her fatal end was drawing near. On Thursday of Holy Week it was judged appropriate to give her Holy Viaticum. This news gave her great joy. It was the custom in the Sault village that when Communion was given to the sick, they would be carried to the chapel on a woven bark mat. Kateri was too weak to be carried in this manner, so an exception to the established rule was made for her. This extraordinary occurrence in the village drew a large crowd, which desired to escort the Blessed Sacrament, see a Saint die and recommend themselves to her prayers. The priest entered her cabin to hear her general Confession. In his presence, she renewed the gift she had made of herself to God and thanked Him for all the graces she had received since her Baptism, especially that of having preserved the integrity of her body. Despite her humility, the priest prevailed upon her to address a few words of exhortation to the crowd that pressed around her deathbed. She gave in to his wish and used the time remaining to her in this life in this exercise of charity and in continual acts of the love of God, as much as her strength would allow.

    Kateri received Extreme Unction on Wednesday of Holy Week, the last day of her life. After receiving this Sacrament, she said her good-byes to her friend Mary Theresa Tekayakentha, telling her to persevere in her good resolutions and promising to pray for her when she got to Heaven. Kateri turned her face towards Heaven as they read the prayers for the recommendation of her soul. She lost the use of her voice, but retained her hearing until her final breath. She united herself continually to the prayers being said for her and to the invocations of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary that were suggested to her. Kateri died quietly on the same day, at the age of 24. The Indians assembled in her cabin showed her all kinds of marks of veneration. The entire village was filled with the odor of her virtue and her reputation for sanctity. When they gathered in the chapel for evening prayers as was their custom, Fr. Chollenec presented her eulogy, showing them what a treasure God had given them in the person of this pious young woman and what a loss they had just sustained.

They could not get enough of looking at her face. It appeared transfigured by the supernatural beauty of holiness. Two Frenchmen from Laprairie who had come to the Sault entered the cabin in which Kateri lay and thought at first upon seeing her that she was peacefully sleeping. When they were told that she was a pious young woman who had just died, they re-entered the cabin, knelt by the bed in which she lay and recommended themselves to her prayers. They took it upon themselves to provide a fine coffin in which Kateri was placed, but everyone took such pleasure in looking at her that they left her face uncovered until her burial.

     Celebrated on the following day, her funeral was a day of both mourning and rejoicing. While everyone was sad over losing her so young, they rejoiced over the hope of having a powerful protectress in Heaven.

        God was not content with glorifying this humble maiden in Heaven; He wanted to glorify her on earth as well. All the Jesuit missionaries who passed through Sault admired and invoked her. When the Lord Bishop of Quebec City came to Sault with His Honor the Marquis de Denonville, they went to pray at the tomb of the one the Honorable Marquis called the Genevieve of Canada. Many inhabitants of the parishes near Sault came every year to sing a solemn Mass to the Holy Trinity in order to recommend themselves to Kateri Tekakwitha. The pastor of Lachine, Fr. Remy, was advised of this custom by his parishioners, and answered he did not think his presence there should authorize a public cult which the Church had not yet permitted. He fell dangerously ill the same day and was suddenly cured upon vowing to follow his predecessors' example. The pastor of Laprairie, Fr. Geoffroy, claimed he was an eyewitness to the marvels Kateri was performing in his parish, and that he was ready to publicize them everywhere. Among the events following Kateri's death, Rev. Fr. Chollenec mentions the fervent piety seen throughout the St. Francis Xavier Mission at Sault St. Louis as one of the most marvelous. Nothing but fervent exhortations to Christian piety were heard in the Indian lodges. These exhortations were made not in word only, but especially in works.

Married people separated by mutual consent, and a number of young widows vowed perpetual continence. Others made the same promise in the event their husbands should die before them, and they kept their promise later.

    It even occurred that two 15-year old girls believed they could do nothing more pleasing to God and His Handmaid than pledge themselves to virginity. They prayed Kateri to help them accomplish their design. They encountered an insuperable obstacle in their parents who said they would never consent to this. Therefore the girls began entreating Kateri to obtain for them the grace to die if it were impossible for them to live in this state, as they desired. It is at least permissible to believe this pious and heroic request was answered. Indeed, shortly afterwards-----to the great surprise of the entire village-----they were withdrawn from this world.

    After Kateri's death there was also a great zeal for bodily mortifications among the Indians. They devoted themselves ardently to the practices mentioned above and vied with one another in inflicting on themselves such mortification as would hardly be met with in the most rigorous monasteries. About six months after Kateri's death God glorified her by the brilliance of the miracles she performed in almost innumerable quantity throughout all of Canada. The very dust taken from her tomb served as a remedy to cure all kinds of ailments. People came from all over the colony to give thanks to God for benefits received by Kateri's intercession and to venerate her relics. Cures were operated by her images, by the simple invocation of her name, by the promise of a pilgrimage to her tomb, and by contact with her blanket, her clothing and objects she had used. Fr. Chollenec mentions two certificates [one signed by Abbé de la Colombière, Grand Vicar of Quebec and Clerk Councilor of the Council of New France, the other by Captain Duluth of a company of infantry]. Both declare expressly that, having gone to Kateri Tekakwitha's tomb, they had obtained complete cure of serious illnesses through her intercession.

     The Jesuit missionaries at Sault St. Louis received many letters from France in which they
were told that Kateri Tekakwitha had come to the aid of many who had implored her assistance. Fr. Chollenec adds that among all the miracles she performed, the greatest of all in his opinion was Kateri herself, whom he called the true Thaumaturge of the New World. All these miraculous occurrences have not been submitted to judicial inquiry, no doubt, but in view of the concourse of people to Kateri's tomb and the declarations of so many priests and laymen distinguished by their science and piety, one cannot help but admit that Kateri Tekakwitha died in the odor of sanctity and has obtained extraordinary graces for those who have trusted in her intercession.