Kateri Tekakwitha was born in Auriesville, New York, in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin mother, Tagaskouita and her Mohawk Chief father, Kenneronkwa. Tekakwitha, the name given to her translates to “She who bumps into things.”
When Kateri was a child, a smallpox epidemic attacked her tribe and both her parents died. Kateri was left with permanent scars on her face and impaired eyesight. Her uncle, who had now become chief of the tribe, adopted Kateri.
When three Jesuit fathers were visiting the tribe in 1667 and staying in the tent of her uncle, they spoke to her of Christ, and though she did not ask to be baptized at that time, she believed in Jesus with an incredible intensity.
Kateri struggled to maintain her faith amidst the opposition of her tribe who ridiculed her for it. When Kateri was 18, Fr. Jacques de Lamberville returned to the Mohawk village, and it was then Kateri asked to be baptized.
Life in the Mohawk village had become violent and debauchery was commonplace. Realizing this was dangerous to her life, Kateri escaped to the town of Caughnawaga in Quebec, near Montreal, where she grew in holiness and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
Kateri lived out her last years of her short life here. She practiced austere penance and constant prayer. She was said to have reached the highest levels of a “Mystical Union with God”. Many miracles were attributed to her while she was still alive.
Kateri Tekakwitha died on April 17, 1680 at the young age of only 24. Witnesses reported that within minutes of her death, the scars from smallpox completely vanished and her face shone with a radiant beauty.
Devotion to Kateri began immediately after her death. Kateri’s body, enshrined in Caughnawaga, is visited by many pilgrims each year. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012.
On July 14, the Church celebrates the “Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha”, the first Native American to be canonized. Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” Kateri Tekakwitha lived a life of holiness and virtue.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine
The outdoor architecture at the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Rosary Walk Gallup shrine pays homage both to Saint Kateri’s connection to nature, her piety and particularly to her great love for the rosary. The design of the shrine resembles a 20-decade rosary carved from the desert. An outdoor chapel will to stand at the head, and a path will flow to the center of the Rosary Walk. From the centerpiece, four pathways will loop through the surrounding terrain, each dotted with five Nichos (“niches”) to depict the mysteries of the rosary.
“The idea was this. We have this beautiful high desert here.” Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup said. “It’s hard to touch, the beauty of this place. Let’s put a rosary walk here. Let’s do something that she’s associated with: God’s creation, and the rosary.” “Nature is just part of who we are. For St. Kateri to be out there praying her rosary in nature is something that we understand.”
The Chapel will stand where a crucifix would normally hang from a handheld rosary. Along this path, there are to be three Nichos depicting the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. “It’s not just a building, but it’s built into nature, at one with the natural, much like Kateri’s rosary was.” The outdoor element is key for the connection to St. Kateri’s native spirituality. “She was able to see, as she walked through nature, as she walked through creation, the hand of the Creator,” Bishop Wall described as her way of praying.
Each Nicho is built in a traditional native style. This gives them symbolic significance as well as an architectural advantage: not only does this give the shrine a direct aesthetic connection to the populations it honors, it also ensures that the structures will likely survive for hundreds of years. The construction of a traditional Nicho begins with clearing the necessary space and setting a foundation in the ground. Adobe bricks are layered on top of the foundation. Pine beams are set into the brick structure, and a cross is placed on top. The entire Nicho is stuccoed with a mixture of straw, sand, and clay, and a lime coat is added on top. Because multiple layers of stucco need to be added, and each take time to cure, the process takes several days. Coordinates for each nicho have been arranged by satellite.