The tomb of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Kuhnawake, Quebec
From the Oratory of St. Joseph we journeyed south to Kuhnawake, Quebec, a reserve of the Mohawk nation, to visit St. Francis Xavier Mission. In the church building the remains of St. Kateri Tekakwitha are entombed and venerated.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, referred to as the Lily of the Mohawks, was born in 1656. She was left orphaned at four years old when a smallpox epidemic killed her parents, her brother and most of her village. Her face and skin were badly scarred and she suffered poor eyesight because of the same disease. The name Tekakwitha literally means “she who bumps into things” because of her poor eyesight.
After moving from Ossernenon (current day Auriesville, NY) to Kuhnawake, Kateri encountered the Blackrobes—Jesuit missionaries from France intent on bringing Christianity to the New World. She eventually embraced the Catholic faith, despite much ridicule and hostility from her uncle (who acted as her guardian) as well as being shunned by other members of her tribe. Having professed a life of consecrated virginity, she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. Upon her death, the smallpox scars miraculously disappeared.
What made our visit to her tomb so special is that we were there only a few weeks prior to her scheduled canonization on October 21, 2012. She is the first Native American to receive this honor. Her feast day is July 14 in the USA.
Crossing back to the USA, we continued our pilgrimage to Auriesville, NY (about 40 miles west of Albany). It was here that the American counterpart to the Canadian Martyrs’ Shrine stands—the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.
The current site was once a 17th century Mohawk village (called Ossernenon) where three Jesuit missionaries were martyred during the 1640s. Father Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, a Jesuit brother, and John Lalande, a lay missioner, are canonized American martyrs. Together with five Jesuit priests killed in the native missions of Canada, they are known as the North American Martyrs. Their feast is celebrated on October 19 in the USA. As mentioned before, St. Kateri Tekakwitha was also born here.
Part of this shrine includes the Ravine, the holy place where a grieved Father Isaac Jogues interred the bones of René Goupil in an unmarked grave. I briefly relate his story:
St. René Goupil was a lay Jesuit, or donné, who served as a physician at the Jesuit missions in Quebec. Enroute to Huronia [around Midland, Ontario] with Father Isaac Jogues in 1642, he was ambushed and taken to the Mohawk village of Ossernenon. He survived weeks of torture and was then enslaved in the village. He was a compassionate man who tended the wounds of his tormentors. He was killed on September 29, 1642, while praying the rosary, because he had blessed a little boy with the sign of the cross. Buried by the loving hands of Father Jogues, René's holy relics rest in an unmarked grave in the Ravine on the Auriesville Shrine property.
I was very moved by his story because making the Sign of the Cross, which we probably do routinely and without much thought, led to his death.
Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs--Auriesville, NY