Kateri is born – the Seed Bears Fruit
The Lord moves in great sweeping motions when He wants to accomplish something. The fruit of the Martyrs had to be a strong focus of the Lord from before the death of the Martyrs. In Trois-Rivieres, today a part of French Canada, in the province of Quebec, a young Indian Maiden of the Algonquin tribe was raised under the mantle of the French Jesuits. She was baptized in Trois-Rivieres and lived with French settlers for a time. When the Jesuits pulled their missions back to Quebec in 1649, as a result of violent raids by the Iroquois and the outrageous executions of the Blackrobe missionaries, the Algonquins were left on their own and came under the domination of the Iroquois. Kateri’s mother was taken prisoner and brought down the Mohawk river with the rest of the Indian captives. She landed in Ossernenon, a beautiful Mohawk village in what is today, Auriesville, in upstate New York.
It was in Ossernenon that she met her husband, a chief of one of the villages. They married, and settled down there. Now, we have to remember that Kateri’s mother was as much a captive as she was the wife of the chief. Nothing is known about her relationship with her husband or the people of the village. She was a foreigner, who spoke a different language, and had different customs. We’re sure that she was not able to practice her Christian religion, because the Blackrobes had not yet returned to this area. How she must have grieved, especially over the loss of her Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
She and her husband had two children, Kateri, born in 1656, and her younger brother. They lived a comparatively peaceful life in Ossernenon. Her mother tried to impart in the children at least the virtues of Christianity, if not the actual beliefs of the Faith, to the best of her understanding. She also tried to incorporate the teachings of the Church with the positive values of her Indian background, even though her Algonquin beliefs varied somewhat from the Iroquois or Mohawk.
Kateri was a beautiful child, possessing the best features of both mother and father. She was very loved by her parents, and respected as the daughter of a chief of the village. But all that was to come to an end swiftly when she was about four years old. A deadly epidemic of Smallpox erupted, and swept through the village like wildfire. It had no respect for age, sex or position. Kateri’s mother died first, then her brother and her father. Kateri’s mother had always prayed for the baptism of her children, and possibly they were baptized with the Baptism of Desire. But in her lifetime, Kateri’s mother did not see her children officially baptized. Kateri’s brother was never baptized. It would be 16 years after her mother’s death that her prayer for Kateri would be finally answered.
After the death of her family, the most difficult period of Kateri’s life began. She was taken in by her uncle, her father’s brother, who was made head chief of the village. However, as much as he loved Kateri, the uncle’s personality was different from Kateri’s father, from what she could remember of her father. Her actual upbringing was put in the hands of various aunts who loved her as a relative, but they were definitely not her mother.
The Smallpox epidemic had devastated the village and Kateri personally. In addition to losing her family, she was permanently scarred from the disease. Her face, beautiful before the Smallpox hit her, became extremely pockmarked. Her eyesight was severely affected to the point of being almost blind for the rest of her life. She walked with her head down, mostly to protect her eyes from the sunlight, but also because she couldn’t see clearly in front of her. It worked out to her favor after her baptism as she then walked in this manner, as an expression of humility. It was because of this condition that she was called Tekakwitha. Her uncle looked at her as she struggled to walk around, in the early days after her eyesight was affected. He called her Tekakwitha, which means literally “She pushed with her hands.” But Tekakwitha has a very special meaning among the Mohawks. It means the ideal woman, one who works hard and keeps everything in good order: a prudent, industrious, provident, loving wife and mother. The chief didn’t know it, but he was prophesying about the qualities Kateri would possess when the Lord put her to work for the Kingdom.
Ossernenon was considered an evil omen to the villagers. It had been the scene of almost total destruction to the people there. Everywhere they looked, they could see in their minds’ eyes the bodies of loved ones who had died from the epidemic. In addition, Smallpox was still ravaging the tribe. The chiefs determined it was best to leave Ossernenon, because evil spirits were there.
Her uncle, as main chief of the village, supervised the building of the new village, with the palisades for protection and the longhouses6 for living. They chose a spot on a hill facing the river, about a mile to the west of Ossernenon. It was called Caughnawaga, which meant “by the rapids.” In addition to being very beautiful, it was a very strategic location. From this vantage point, they could see their enemies approaching. This is where Kateri spent her childhood….