The Quiet Presence of the Saints
As the end of my time in eighth grade approached, my classmates and I were working on a project about saints. While my classmates would be confirmed in the Catholic Church, I would not be able to participate since I was not Catholic. I was, however, required to complete the project since it was part of our computer lab time. The teacher asked us to find a saint that we shared a name with. As soon as I heard about the project, I knew I would not find a saint with the exact same name as mine, and my research proved me right. However, I did stumble across a few St. Catherine’s, which would have been ideal had I not been so picky about this particular variation of my name. It’s not that I disliked the name Catherine, but I wanted something more unique and uncommon. That’s when I found Saint Kateri.
Kateri’s childhood, culture, and life was fascinating to me and I enjoyed working on the project. I found out that her birth name was Tekakwitha and her mother was Catholic Algonquin and her father was a Mohawk chief. When she was four years old, Kateri’s village was infected with smallpox. Her parents and younger brother passed away while she nearly died from the disease, which left her heavily scarred and partially blind. She was adopted by her aunts and uncle and spent the rest of her adolescence with them. Kateri was not baptized as an infant, but her mother had passed down stories about Christ and His life. Kateri kept these teachings in her heart where they would eventually spark a desire for conversion. In 1675, when Kateri was eighteen years old, Jesuit missionaries came to the village and established a chapel. While her uncle was not partial towards the priests and their foreign teachings, he tolerated their presence. Kateri was drawn towards the priests, urged on by the memory of her mother’s faith, and began taking catechism lessons. On Easter Sunday in 1676, Tekakwitha was baptized and given the name “Kateri”, the Mohawk translation for Catherine. Her aunts and uncle were displeased with her conversion and she became the village outcast, mocked by the people she grew up with; her life was threatened and she was constantly pressured to renounce her faith. A year after her baptism, Kateri fled her village and travelled more than 200 miles to a Catholic mission near Montreal. It took her more than two months to reach her destination, but when she eventually did reach it, she was embraced by the residents of the mission. Kateri’s motto became: “who can tell me what is most pleasing to God, so that I may do it”. She took a vow of perpetual virginity and hoped to open a convent for Native American sisters. However, her health was deteriorating rapidly, in part due to to the extreme penances she imposed on herself in order to participate in Christ’s suffering. Kateri died on Wednesday of Holy Week at the age of twenty four. Her last words were: “Jesus, I love you”. Miraculously, fifteen minutes after her death, the smallpox scars that ravaged her as a young girl completely disappeared.
Soon after submitting my project, I let St. Kateri slip away from my mind. Perhaps it was because I felt separated from my classmates as they moved on to the next sacrament that would reaffirm their commitment to Catholicism, whereas I was an outsider to these practices. But more than that, it was because I did not know how to relate to St. Kateri and her life. Here she was, enduring suffering and taking it on out of an intense love for God! I wasn’t even sure if God existed, let alone if I could ever willingly take on suffering. And so, St. Kateri did not come to mind again until I myself became Catholic. When I did enter the Catholic Church, I asked for the guidance of St. Catherine of Siena, a saint that made her presence in my life very prominent. Again, I could by no means relate to this holy woman’s life, but there was something so special about her life and devotion to God that she stayed close to me throughout the process of my conversion. I realized that I did not need a saint with the same circumstances and background that I came from, I just needed them to be a source of guidance and inspiration.
It was during the summer when I became a Catholic missionary that St. Kateri came back into my life. The Sisters of Life were visiting the retreat center that day to give us a talk, and I ended up sitting with one of them for lunch. Her name was Sr. Maria Kateri. She asked what inspired me to be a part of the program, and I began to tell her about my conversion. I came to the point of the story when I talked about the confirmation project. St. Kateri only came up in that conversation because I was talking to a nun that took that saint’s name as her own. I explained why I picked St. Kateri for my project, but how I now had a close bond with St. Catherine of Siena. Sr. Maria Kateri looked into my eyes, and I could tell from her expression, especially her bright, blue eyes, how excited she was. She told me: “Kateri picked that name because of St. Catherine of Siena! She picked that name specifically because she knew about her!” I was stunned and tears ran down my cheeks as I realized what these saints have done for me.
I realized that both St. Kateri and St. Catherine have been present in my life, even before I was Catholic. I am certain that both of their prayers helped to lead me to Jesus. Both of these women used small opportunities to draw me closer to God, such as that project and my conversation with Sr. Maria Kateri. Two women, one that lived in the fourteenth century and the other from the seventeenth, who were departed from this Earth but united in the Communion of Saints, reached out to a soul that was lost but desperately seeking God, and guided me into His arms. Saints work in subtle ways to make their presence in our lives known. It is in their quiet, prayerful intercessions that we discover just how powerful of an impact and influence they have on our lives.
Have you prayed to your favorite saint today?