Native American, Minister to Hawaii Lepers to Be Declared Saints

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Blessed Marianne Cope

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ROME, DEC. 20, 2011 ( Among the miracles recognized by Benedict XVI on Monday were two gained through the intercession of women tied to North America. 

The first, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as the Lily of the Mohawks, was the first native American to be beatified. John Paul II declared her blessed in 1980. Kateri was born in 1656 of an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief in a Mohawk village in upstate New York. 

When she was only four years old her parents and brother died of smallpox. Kateri survived the disease, but it left her face badly scarred and her eyesight impaired. Because of her poor vision, Kateri was named «Tekakwitha,» which means «she who bumps into things.»

When Kateri was 18 years of age, she began receiving instruction in the Catholic faith. It was done in secret as her uncle, who she had lived with since the death of her parents, was opposed to Christianity. Her uncle finally gave his consent for Kateri to become a Christian, provided that she did not try to leave the Mohawk village of Caughnawaga, where she was living at the time. 

Kateri was ridiculed and scorned by villagers for becoming a Catholic and her life was threatened. Almost two years after her baptism she escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, a settlement of Christian Indians in Canada. 

The village in Canada was also named Caughnawaga (Kahnawake). On Christmas Day 1677, Kateri made her first holy Communion and on the feast of the Annunciation in 1679 made a vow of perpetual virginity. She also offered herself to the Blessed Mother Mary to accept her as a daughter.

During her time in Canada, Kateri taught prayers to children and worked with the elderly and sick. She would often go to Mass both at dawn and sunset. She was known for her great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the cross of Christ.

During the last years of her life, Kateri endured great suffering from a serious illness. She died on April 17th, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday, and was buried in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada.

The miracle that is enabling Kateri’s canonization was the curing of a Native American, Jake Finkbonner, who belongs to the Lummi tribe.

After a fall in a basketball game in February 2006, Jake was infected with necrotizing fasciitis, or Strep A. Doctors expected him to die but Father Tim Sauer, a family friend, told his parents, Elsa and Donny Finkbonner, who are Catholics, to pray to Blessed Kateri. 

«In my heart, in all of us, we’ve always found that Jake’s recovery, his healing and his survival truly was a miracle,» his mother told the local newspaper, the Bellingham Herald. The family lives in Bellingham, in Washington state, where the Lummi tribe is located.

Helper of St. Damien

Blessed Mother Marianne Cope was born on Jan. 23, 1838, in Heppenheim, Germany. Born Barbara Koob, she was the daughter of a farmer, Peter Koob, and Barbara Witzenbacher Koob. 

In 1839 the family emigrated to the United States. They became members of St. Joseph’s Parish in Utica, New York, where the children attended the parish school. In 1848, Barbara received her first holy Communion and was confirmed at St. John’s parish in Utica. In the 1850s the family became American citizens.

Marianne later wrote that she experienced a calling to religious life at an early age, but she could not follow her vocation for another nine years because of her family obligations. She was the oldest child at home and after reaching eighth grade went to work in a factory to support the family when her father had become an invalid. 

She entered the convent of the Sisters of St. Francis at 24 years of age, a month after her father’s death and when her siblings were no longer dependent on her. 

Barbara entered the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, New York and, on Nov. 19, 1862, she was invested at the Church of the Assumption. She became known as Sister Marianne.

A year later she made her profession as a religious, after which she served as a teacher and principal in several schools in New York State. She also helped during the 1860s in the establishment of two of the first hospitals in the central New York area, St. Elizabeth’s in Utica (1866) and St. Joseph’s in Syracuse (1869). 

In 1883, by then superior-general of her order, she responded to a plea for help by leaving with six other nuns for Hawaii to help look after lepers. The following year she met Damien de Veuster, famous for his work with lepers on the Hawaiian island of Moloki.

After Damien’s death from leprosy, Mother Marianne volunteered to continue his work on the island. She died of natural causes on Aug. 9, 1918. The order still continues to care for lepers in Hawaii.

The subject of that miracle approved on Monday was Sharon Smith, who in 2005 was dying from an untreatable form of pancreatitis.

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