A first: Native American, Blessed Kateri, to become a saint

This will be big news, especially in my neck of the woods.

Blessed Kateri was a New Yorker — okay, she was from upstate — but a small statue of her is prominent in the raredos behind our altar in Queens.  (That’s particularly unusual, because our church was dedicated in 1940, three years before she was declared “venerable.”)  I have to wonder: how long until girls begin choosing “Kateri” for their confirmation name?  (Or have they already started?  I haven’t seen it at my parish, but we had a sudden surge of “Pios” when he was canonized…)


The Vatican today announced that the Mohawk-Algonquin woman born in 1656 and known as Kateri Tekakwitha has been deemed worthy of sainthood by the Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI has signed the decree recognizing a miracle performed by Kateri, and she will therefore be canonized at a ceremony sometime in the future.

According to the biography at katerishrine.com, Kateri’s father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was Algonquin (Catholic News Service specifies that her mother was also a Christian); her parents and brother died of smallpox when she was four, and the disease left her with facial disfigurements and impaired vision. She was consequently given the name “Tekakwitha,” which means “she who bumps into things.” Her uncle, who was chief of the Turtle Clan of Mohawks, adopted her. Though he is described as “bitterly opposed to Christianity,” he eventually relented, and Kateri was baptized in 1676 at the age of 20. She died four years later. The name “Kateri” is a derivation of Catherine, taken at her baptism, according to Wikipedia, as a tribute to Catherine of Siena.

Also according to Wikipedia, the process of Kateri’s canonization began in 1884; Pope Pius XII declared her venerable in 1943, and Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1980. She was at that time the first American Indian to be beatified.

Earlier this year, a segment on NPR looked at the process of certifying Kateri’s miracle, which was then underway. Young Jake Finkbonner of Ferndale, Washington, had become afflicted with the flesh-eating bacterium strep. It was consuming his face, and he was expected to die—in fact, a Catholic priest had administered last rites. Meanwhile, a grassroots prayer campaign had started, and children across the country were praying for Kateri to save Jake, who is of Lummi descent. Kateri was chosen because, as the story goes, her facial disfigurements healed upon her death. Jake’s priest, Reverend Tim Sauer, explained that the affinities between Jake and Kateri made her a logical choice. “No. 1, we’re talking about two young people,” Sauer told NPR. “No. 2, we’re talking about two people who come from Native American ancestry. And No. 3, we’re talking about a person who herself suffered from a disease that disfigured her face.” After Jake defied all doctors’ predictions and survived, the Catholic Church initiated the process of certifying his recovery as a miracle caused by Kateri’s closeness to God.

Read more.

And CNS has details about other saints who will soon be joining the calendar.


  1. Deacon Norb says:

    Article asks: ” How long until girls begin choosing “Kateri” for their confirmation name? (Or have they already started?”

    Yup! They have already started. My grand-daughter chose Kateri as her Confirmation name almost 8 years ago. But then, she had some inspiration — there are traces of Cherokee on her father’s side.

  2. Believe it or not, I had a Kateri in my fifth grade a couple years back…but I am almost 100% certain the parents had no knowledge of Blessed Kateri.

  3. I read the Wikipedia entry and was moved by the description of her facial scars healing upon death, “revealing a woman of immense beauty.”

  4. Our Catherine is named for Kateri.

  5. Have had Kateri chosen by one or two in my confirmation youth group over the past several years.

  6. I assist our bishop in several confirmations each year. Kateri is perhaps the second most common feminine name taken here in Grand Rapids, Michigan after Cecelia. Our cathedral has four statues, one or which is Kateri. This is wonderful news.

  7. I think that is great I have been praying for her and toher for years. Wonderful news indeed!
    Blessed Kateri pray for us.

  8. well, brother Deacon Greg, my daughter a number of years ago took Kateri as her confirmation name…and she may have been born in upstate New York, but she did, after all was said and done, emigrate to Canada….just sayin’ ;-)

  9. That’s great, after over 400 years it’s about time! Devotion to her is very popular in the Native American communities in our state, even though they are Sioux or Winnebago.
    I do know of some girls called Katera or Catera, don’t know if their parents had Bl. Kateri in mind.

  10. After my daughter gave a presentation in class on Blessed Kateri last year in 3rd grade, the two of us made a pilgrimage to visit Kateri’s birthplace this past summer at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville NY and also to her national shrine in Fonda NY. When I saw the news first via The Anchoress I shouted out to my daughter to come to the computer. We are so thrilled. I feel like I have been waiting to hear this news since I was my daughter’s age. BTW when we were at the National Shrine in Fonda we had a lovely conversation with the priest running the gift shop. He spoke to us at length about the case of the little boy with the facial disfigurement. They also had a bulletin board in the shop with photos of girls named Kateri or those who had taken Kateri as their confirmation name. I don’t know what name my daughter will choose when she is confirmed but I would not be surprised if she chose Kateri.

  11. I wanted to choose Kateri as my confirmation name, but since I wasn’t sure if that was allowed, I chose St Agnes instead (another great saint, in my opinion). But then there was a young lady in my sister’s confirmation class who did choose Kateri. I’m so happy to hear she will finally be officially counted among the saints of the church!

  12. Deacon Larry Vaclavik says:

    Our daughter named Kateri was given Blessed Kateri’s name at her birth in 1987. We have long awaited this announcement! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

  13. …and, is it true that her name is pronounced “cát-er-y”?”?

  14. KatorikuRant says:

    OH MAN! Kateri is my Confirmation saint/patron and I’m pushing for her to be considered for one of the girl’s names when I have my 500 Catholic babies. Its a hard sell… Mr. Serrano isn’t sure if that would fly with his Mexican family.

    Oh, and I’m from Grand Rapids, MI too! I was amazed to see her statue in the Cathedral when I visited, shortly after choosing her as my patron. I’m blogging about this.

  15. According to one site, the Mohawk pronunciation is “Gah-DAY-Li.” That’s too hard! Were I to name someone that, I would say it as “kah-TARE-ee.”

  16. My son’s public school first-grade teacher, 31 years ago, was a member of the Immaculate Heart Community who kept her religious name, Kateri. She pronounced it the way I’d always heard it, kuh-TEER-ee. There has always been great devotion to Kateri in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, where I grew up. There are lots of Kateris there with Irish and Latina last names. Before the official recognition, parents or confirmands wanting to honor Kateri Tekakwitha simply said they were choosing a variant of St Catherine–as Kateri herself did.

  17. Rebecca Balmes says:

    We have a little 2 year old Kateri! We pronounce it “kuh-TARE-ee”, and her nickname is Kate. This is such a fantastic story. :)

  18. I had a friend named Kateri in high school. But yes, I chose Kateri Tekakwitha as my confirmation name about eight years ago, when I already have a long name. Most of my classmates chose names they liked or short names – however I wanted someone I felt drawn to. Ever since I was little, I felt drawn to her – and yes, the fact that I am part Cherokee did help with that. I am glad that she is getting ever closer to becoming a saint.

  19. Re: The very first post from me and this last one from “kat2007w.” Great book-ends to this stream. You see, “kat2007w” is my grand-daughter.

  20. pagansister says:

    It’s a beautiful name.

  21. Twenty-three years ago we named our daughter Kateri. I hope that the canonization of Blessed Kateri will bring her back into the Church.

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