Blessed Kateri (Catherine) Tekakwitha (1890) Ceremony in Laprairie
THE LILY OF THE MOHAWK.
THE True Witness and Catholic Chronicle of Montreal, in its issue of August 6, gives this interesting account of the ceremonies attending the blessing of the monument erected over the remains of the Iroquois virgin, Catherine Tegakwita.
“The ceremonies at Laprairie last Wednesday were very imposing and solemn at the blessing of the granite monument erected at La Tortue over the grave of Catherine Tegakwita, the Iroquois Indian girl, who was baptized into the Catholic Church [at Auriesville] in 1676.
The streets of Laprairie were profusely decorated with triumphal arches, one very beautiful arch of white and colored letters having a very pretty effect. There was a distinguished gathering of prelates and priests present, among whom were His Grace Archbishop Fabre, Bishop Gravel, of Nicolet; Father Drummond, S. J., rector of St. Mary’s College; Father Burtin, of the Oblates; Father Benoit, canon regular of the Immaculate Conception, and lately arrived from France; Father Dorval, superior of the College of the Assumption, and about sixty other priests.
“At one o’clock a start was made for La Cote St. Catherine, the place where Catherine died and which is named after her. It is commonly called La Tortue. Steps have not yet been taken for her canonization, but the Baltimore Plenary Council recommended that the matter should be taken up.
The tomb is the gift of Father Walworth, the distinguished antiquarian, whose niece has just finished a beautiful life of Catherine Tegakwita, which will soon be published. Some years ago when her canonization was first suggested and it became necessary to recover some relics, the grave was opened and several mouldering limbbones found. These were placed in charge of the cure of Caughnawaga, and they are now in charge of Father Burtin, the resident missionary. The brown bones are kept in a linen napkin in a small box which, besides, contains a document signed by successive missionaries, testifying to their being the bones handed to them by their predecessors. The box is kept in a safe in the vestry, along with the gold-embroidered vestments, presented to the little church by Napoleon III., and other valuable possessions of the parish.
She was buried at the spot where the tomb now is, but as the Indians continued to move up the river they took her remains with them, the veneration in which she was held from her death in 1680 enduring among the Indians to the present time.
She was born in 1658, and even in her early childhood showed a great love for modesty, retirement and prayer, and lived a religious life even before being baptized. She was received into the Church in-1676, and during the four years of her Christian life she edified every one by her sweetness and amiability, and her constant self-denial. She was the niece of the great chief Tegakwita.
Her uncle had at first done nothing to prevent her devotions, but persecutions soon came when she declared that she would not go into the field to work on Sunday. They endeavored in vain to starve her into subjection by taking all food away with them, leaving her to fast all day, unless she came to them, when they intended to compel her to work. She cheerfully bore the mortification rather than offend God by neglecting to sanctify the Lord’s Day.
The example and services of Catherine proved a great benefit to the missionaries, but the latter being in constant fear of the girl’s friends urged her to go to the new settlement of the Christian Iroquois at Laprairie, the nucleus of the present Caughnawaga tribe. Her uncle, who, in the system of Iroquois relationship, stood in the stead of a father, would not consent to her departure. She did not quail, however, and at last went to Laprairie with her brother-in-law, who chanced to be going there with a resolute chief named ‘Hot Cinders.’
She reached the Laprairie settlement, then known by. the name of Sault St. Louis de Montreal, a name now borne by the parish of Caughnawaga, and died there after a life of continued piety. During her lifetime Catherine is said to have performed miracles. After her death it was customary for the Indians and French Canadians to pray at her grave and numerous miracles are reported to have been performed, through her intercession. So firmly was the young squaw’s sanctity believed in the older days that the Marquis de Denonville, when Governor of Canada, besought her intercession during a plague, and when it ceased, the credit was given to her. If canonized, Catherine will be the first North American Indian saint.
“The tomb is on the right hand or river side of the road. It is a granite parallelogram, topped with a slab projecting slightly over the edges and bearing the inscription, ‘Kateri Takakwita,’ written by Father Cueq, the distinguished Sulpician Indian scholar of Oka, followed by the date of her death, and an Indian inscription to the effect that she was a beautiful flower grown in the native soil for heaven. The granite sarcophagus is surrounded by a neat railing covered with a sloping roof in great pine slabs with the bark on, and this is surmounted by a large cross which may be seen a great distance, the cross being about fifteen feet high. Opposite to this, on the other side of the road, a platform had been erected, ornamented with flags and bunting.
Arrived at the tomb the Archbishop, Bishop Gravel and the clergy waited upon the platform until the arrival of Bishop McNeirny, of Albany, N. Y., who came up by the 12 o’clock boat with Father Walworth and three American priests, and were warmly welcomed. Bishop McNeirny read a liturgical blessing in Latin, after which Father Drummond preached in French from the words in Corinthians: God chose the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise ones, and God chose the weak things of this world that He might put to shame the strong.
“Catherine Tegakwita, he said, showed her wisdom by despising the follies of the world. We might gather some idea of the sort of obloquy she met with from the saying reported in her lifetime, made by some of the sharp tongues among the Indians, that’as men did not want her, God took her to Himself,’ alluding to the fact that she was plain, and that her face was pitted with small-pox, but she braved all their worldly wisdom in order to serve God with a pure heart.
In the second place, he showed how the grace of God could make the weak things of the world so powerful as to confound the strong, for she braved all the ridicule and persecution of her pagan household during two years, and then resisted the entreaties of her Christian friends at Caughnawaga, who begged her to marry, which proved that the saying he had previously quoted was not true. Great as was her admiration for the Sacrament of Matrimony, she felt called to that singleness of life which her Divine Master had so highly praised, and of which St. Paul says, it is the better day.
“Dr. Patten, a full Indian, then read an address first in Iroquois and afterward in English, and the ceremonies were brought to a fitting close.”
The Pilgrim of our Lady of Martyrs, N.Y. Catholic Protectory for StJoseph’s Church, Troy, N.Y. 1890
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