Canonization highlights Native spirituality
Blessed Kateri, who lived 1656-1680, was the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and an Algonquin mother. She was four when her parents died of smallpox, a disease brought by by European settlers. The pox also attacked Kateri, transfiguring her face and ruining her eyesight.
Wearing the scars caused by invaders, Kateri was moved by Jesuit missionaries to embrace Catholicism. She remained firm in her belief, despite opposition from her tribe, and lived in a Catholic village across the St. Lawrence River, dedicated to prayer and care for the sick and aged. She was devoted to the Eucharist.
Holy Names Sister Margaret Ball, 82, is a member of Oregon’s Klamath Modoc tribe. She has spent three decades working with Native American Catholics in the Northwest. She has visited elders, reached out to the sick and was a presence in family life on several reservations.
Those are the same kinds of things Blessed Kateri did more than 400 years ago and Sister Margaret feels devotion, kinship and love for the soon-to-be saint.
Here’s how Sister Margaret describes the spirituality linked to Blessed Kateri: prayerfulness, reaching out to others and willingness to listen.
“The Native way is respect for elders and listening, respect for all,” she says.
Sister Margaret has traveled with Holy Names Sisters Rosemarie Kasper and Marilyn Nunemaker and local Catholic Margaret Witt to the canonization. This summer, three members of the City of Roses Kateri Circle attended the National Tekakwitha Conference, a gathering of Native American Catholics in upstate New York, Blessed Kateri’s home.
“The conference was very joyful because we’ve been praying all this time for her canonization and now it’s on the doorstep,” Sister Margaret says.
The City of Roses Kateri Circle comprises a few Catholic Native Americans in Portland who gather for prayer and to further the cause of Blessed Kateri.
Sister Margaret is also a member of the Portland Indian Elders Support Group, which assists youths through ChristieCare’s Cedar Bough mental health program and the Native American Rehabilitation Association’s suicide prevention program.
For many Native Americans trying to recover ancient ways, being Catholic is like walking down a road with a line painted in the middle, Sister Margaret says. You have a foot on each side, honoring the Great Creator in both world views.
Sister Margaret’s hope is that Blessed Kateri’s life and message reaches all kinds of people, fostering prayer, respect, listening and showing concern. [More]