By: Carol Ann Morrow
is called the mother of outcasts. The other was
an outcast. One was disfigured and disabled by the plague of smallpox. The
other ministered to those disfigured and disabled by the plague of Hansen’s
disease (formerly known as leprosy). Both are recognized by the Catholic Church
around the world as saints (October 21, 2012).
Each issue carries an imprimatur
from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Who are they? Why are they saints? Why do we
need them as saints in this country and this century? How are we called to
honor and imitate them—and become saints ourselves?
KATERI TEKAKWITHA (1656-1680)
Tekakwitha’s life is a short story, one that takes place in upstate New York and Canada.
The history of Native Americans is colored by
myth and misunderstanding, sometimes romanticized and sometimes brutalized. To
honor Kateri Tekakwitha as a saint, it’s best to place her in context and to appreciate
the cultures and traditions she straddled.
Tekakwitha’s Algonquin mother was baptized
Catholic but was captured by the Mohawk Turtle clan, who were unfamiliar with
the Catholic faith. Tekakwitha’s father was a respected Mohawk chief. When she
was four, smallpox caused the death of many in her village, including her
parents and brother. The disease weakened her health, especially her eyesight,
and scarred her face. Her uncle Iowerano adopted her.
When Tekakwitha was 14, the Jesuits opened a
mission among the Mohawks. These missionaries learned to speak the native
tongue and linked Catholic teaching to indigenous belief and practice in their
catechesis. Her uncle mistrusted those who had brought smallpox to his people. Seeing
that the baptized seemed to value their faith more than their native traditions,
he feared for the future of his clan.
Tekakwitha had quietly absorbed the teaching of
the missionaries despite her uncle’s concerns. Father Jacques de Lamberville
was very cautious when this high-ranking young woman requested Baptism. He knew
the clan leaders wanted her to marry, bear children, and perpetuate tribal
tradition, so he insisted she move at a slow pace. She was baptized on Easter
Sunday 1676, taking the name Catherine in honor of St. Catherine of Siena. Kateri is the Iroquois equivalent of
Life of Quiet Holiness
Baptism, Kateri was ostracized, threatened, and maligned. Father Lamberville
feared for her safety, though Kateri dismissed her troubles as small compared
to those of Jesus. Still, she wanted to be among other believers and agreed to
escape by canoe with the help of an Oneida
chief. She traveled 200 miles to a Christian enclave near Montreal, carrying a letter of introduction
from her Jesuit teacher which read, “I send you a treasure. Guard it well.”
At Sault Saint-Louis Mission, Kateri received
her first Communion in 1677. Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany
(the New York
diocese includes the geographical sites of Kateri’s early life) identified
three qualities that define Kateri’s quiet holiness:
Though she had been scarred and debilitated by
smallpox, when Kateri died at age 24, witnesses testified that she radiated a
clear complexion and great loveliness. Runners spread the news with the simple
message, “The saint is dead.” The Lily of the Mohawks is now recognized as the
first Native American saint in the United States. Her feast day is
- Acceptance of the Cross. The
youthful Tekakwitha is said to have placed twig crosses in the woods as
reminders of the crucifixion. That devotion was made tangible in the risks she
took to be baptized, leave her clan, teach the young, and serve the sick and
- Courage of Conviction. Kateri
wanted to enter a religious community. Her spiritual director judged the life
too foreign to her life experience. So, at 23, she made a vow of virginity,
risking a life of poverty without the support of a husband and family.
- Dedication to Prayer. Kateri
was a woman of prayer, attending daily Mass and vespers and becoming a “keeper
of the faith,” a position typically reserved to the mission’s men. The Jesuits
recognized her extraordinary and constant sense of God’s presence, which caused
others to want to be near her.
MOTHER MARIANNE COPE (1838-1918)
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Barbara Cope’s story is a long one, filled with external
achievements and recognition. It is the way in which she moved through the
decades, however, that reveals her holiness.
The woman we now call St. Marianne
was born in Germany, moved
with her family to New York as a baby, and died
peacefully in Hawaii
at age 80. Midway through her life of strong leadership and generous industry,
she said, “What little good we can do in this world to help and comfort the
suffering, we wish to do it quietly . . . unnoticed and unknown.” Now her life
will be known, inspiring others to do good as well. This is why the Church lifts
up the saints of every age.
At 24, the age at which Kateri
Tekakwitha’s life was complete, Barbara Cope entered the Sisters of St. Francis
(see sosf.org). As the oldest daughter, Barbara had remained at home during her
father’s long illness to provide financial support for her family. In 1862, she
followed a calling she had long delayed.
Known as Sister Marianne, she became
a teacher, principal, and officer in her religious congregation. A strong
leader, she founded two New York
hospitals with a mandate to serve without exceptions. She once said, “The
charity of the good knows no creed and is confined to no one place.” An
innovator, Sister Marianne emphasized cleanliness before good hygiene was
routine. She welcomed students from Syracuse
as interns at St. Joseph
Hospital and, working
beside both teachers and students, learned skills she later used—and improved
upon—in service of the sick.
When Sister Marianne was 39, she was
elected leader (known as Mother) of the sisters. She soon honored a
life-changing request for sisters to serve in the Sandwich Islands (now known
with particular responsibility for patients with Hansen’s disease. Many
congregations had already declined this request, but 35 Franciscan Sisters of
Syracuse generously volunteered. In 1883, Mother Marianne arrived with six sisters
in Honolulu Harbor. She may not have meant to stay,
but she remained there for 35 years and forged the way for others to follow.
Bringing Color and
The Sisters of St. Francis founded Malulani
Hospital on Maui, assumed
administration of a hospital on Oahu, and
began Kapiolani Home for the daughters of patients with leprosy. Mother
Marianne was able to assure the dying Father Damien de Veuster (canonized in
2009) that his work among the lepers would be embraced and continued as well.
A New York
journalist captured the vivid testimony of Sister Magdalene, who cared for
Mother Marianne in her last days: “She revolutionized life on Molokai,
brought cleanliness, pride, and fun to the colony. People on Molokai
laugh now. . . . It was Mother Marianne who bought the girls hair ribbons and
pretty things to wear, dresses and scarves. . . . When Mother Marianne went to
the island, people there had no thought for the graces of life. ‘We are
lepers,’ they told her. ‘What does it matter?’ Well, she changed all that.
Doctors have said that her psychology was 50 years ahead of her time.”
When the visionary founder,
courageous missionary, and compassionate caregiver died, the news account in Syracuse read, “When the
roll of the saints is called, Mother Marianne will be there.” We celebrate her
feast day on January 23.
Inspired by God’s
These two new saints are remarkable in their differences. This
underscores one reason to lift up new candidates for public sainthood in every
age. The followers of Jesus can be young—or not. They can be quiet mystics or
public leaders. They can be born into the faith of Jesus Christ—or discover its
message later in life. They can live in the forest or flourish in large
institutions of public service.
What did both of these saints hold dear? What do
they have in common with the believers who form the communion of saints, known
and unknown? These women were moved by the love of God to love others. This
love shaped their days with purpose. This love called them to frequent prayer
and daily service. This love called them to leave behind what was familiar when
they saw the need. That same love led them to think of any pain or problem as
nothing compared to what St. Paul describes as “the supreme good of knowing
Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil
3:8). These two women kept their eyes on the prize.
STEPPING STONES TO OFFICIAL SAINTHOOD
1983, Pope John Paul II streamlined the official process called canonization, which means to be included
in the canon (official list) of women
and men acknowledged by the whole Church as faithful followers of the Gospel.
How does one get on that list?
1. Time Passes. Five
years must pass to test the enduring inspiration of the person’s life. (Mother
Teresa was a recent exception to this guideline, with a wait of only two
2. Evidence Is Explored. The
bishop of the candidate’s diocese names the person a Servant of God and forms a committee to prepare a report on his or
her holiness to be reviewed by the Vatican.
3. Rome Considers. If the
report is deemed accurate by the Vatican, the person can be called
by the title Venerable, which, in
this case, doesn’t mean old but worthy of veneration or honor.
4. Miracle #1 = Blessed.For Venerable to become Blessed
requires a miracle through the intercession of that person. When a miracle is
proven, beatification means that the person may be honored in a certain
area—though not in the universal Church. (Pope John Paul beatified Kateri
Tekakwitha in 1980 without proof of such a miracle, though many were reported
by the Jesuits immediately after her death.)
5. Miracle #2 = Sainthood.
Canonization, the final step, calls for a second miracle, occurring after
beatification and attributed to the intercession of the prospective saint. If
that miracle is acknowledged by the Church, the person is declared as a saint
for the whole Church.
through the intercession of the saints reveal God at work. The Church believes
that God wants saints to be recognized as channels of healing mercy.
- Through the intercession of Kateri Tekakwitha,
young Jake Finkbonner was saved from a potentially fatal infection of
flesh-eating strep A (necrotizing fasciitis). Read his amazing story at jakefinkbonner.com. Jake’s face remains
scarred from the ravages of infection and futile surgeries, just as Kateri’s
face was scarred from smallpox.
Ann Morrow, an award-winning Catholic journalist, is founding editor of Youth
Update, served as assistant
managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, and is an Associate
of the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg,
NEXT: Nine Reasons for Going to Mass: Thanksgiving Every Sunday by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, OFM Cap
- Through the intercession of Mother Marianne
Cope, Sharon Smith, whose doctors had given up hope for her recovery, was cured
of acute pancreatitis at a hospital founded by Mother Marianne. Read the story