It’s been said time and time again that humans have a moral obligation to take care of God’s creation. Pope Francis, in his encyclical, Laudato Si, even said that “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue.”
There is an existential bond among every single thing here on Earth—after all, we are all created by one God. However, because humans are created in the image and likeness of God, it is us who have dominion over every living thing and are entrusted to be stewards, and not masters, of the Earth. (Read: Baguio Bishop Hits Property Developer for ‘Murder’ of Pine Trees)
One woman embodied being a steward of God’s creation perfectly—it was St. Kateri of Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. (Read: 3 Prayers to St. Kateri Tekakwitha)
Born in 1656 to a Mohawk chieftain and a Christian Algonquin woman along the Hudson River of what is now upstate New York, Kateri became an orphan at 4 years old. Her whole family—her father, mother, and younger brother—contracted smallpox and only she survived. The disease left her disfigured and half-blind, earning her the name Tekakwitha, which means “she who bumps into things.” (Read: Ellen DeGeneres invites blind Filipino balladeer to her show)
Young Kateri was adopted by her uncle who succeeded her father as chief. When she was 11 years old, three Jesuit priests lodged with her adoptive family. While she was deeply moved by the faith and how the priests talked about God, Kateri kept her distance because she feared her uncle. However, she still began to lead a life inspired by the example of the priests.
Conversion to Christianity
At age 19, Kateri finally had the courage to convert to Christianity. Baptized with the name Kateri (Catherine) on Easter Sunday, she took a vow of chastity and refused to marry a Mohawk warrior when her adoptive parents proposed a suitor to her. Because of this, they punished her by giving her more work in exchange for food. But Kateri remained steadfast—not once did she complain; she worked quietly and diligently throughout her ordeal. (Read: Prayers Of The Vatican In Difficult Times)
Because of Kateri’s conversion, her people and even her family treated her like a slave. Her vow of chastity didn’t help her case either. Her neighbors started rumors of sorcery. She was also put in danger many times—she was harassed, stoned, and tortured. Fearing these dangers and threats to her life, Kateri traveled by foot to seek refuge in the Christian Indian mission near Montreal, Canada.
Lily of the Mohawks
While in the mission, Kateri’s life grew in faith. Her fellow Christians called her “Lily of the Mohawks” because of her kindness and faith. Stories about her say that she was a very devout Catholic who always did acts of penance.
Kateri’s Native American upbringing and love for nature brought her closer to God. Since her childhood was all about respecting the ways of nature, she found solace in the woods— where she would often pray alone for an hour every day. She made crosses out of sticks and twigs (her own version of the Stations of the Cross) and always honored the beauty of God’s creations. She also arranged stones in the shape of a rosary and prayed off of them. (Read: 4 Easy Ways to Practice Your Faith Despite a Busy Day)
Death and First Miracle
Kateri died at the age of 24. Witnesses of her death said that her face changed color and became like that of a healthy child. Her scars from the smallpox vanished, and she appeared beautiful and radiant–”as if she as made beautiful by God,” one of her Christians said. Her last words at the time of her death were, “Jesus, I love you…” (Read: St. Padre Pio’s Prayers for Healing and Miracles)
Kateri was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012. St. Kateri is the patron saint of ecology, the environment, people in exile, and Native Americans.