In a rural area of upstate New York, 40 miles west of Albany, is a holy swath of land that connects the ministries of two extraordinary saints – St. Francis of Assisi and St. Kateri Tekakwitha – each devoted to seeing God’s Glory in the elements of nature.
The National St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine honors the first Native American saint and the patroness of ecology. It is directed by the Franciscan Friars, followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology.
St. Kateri was a Kanienkehaka Indian, commonly known as a Mohawk, who lived in the 17th century. Despite being orphaned, badly scarred and blinded by smallpox, she fought to study and practice the Catholic faith, eventually making a vow of perpetual virginity, offering herself to the Blessed Mother Mary.
She endured great suffering from illness until the time of her death at the tender age of 23. Tradition holds that her final words were, “Jesus, I love you.”
According to witnesses, within a few minutes of her death, the pock marks from smallpox vanished and her face radiated.
The Kateri Shrine was founded in 1938 by Fr. Thomas Grassman, a Franciscan and amateur archeologist. He renovated a 200 year-old barn, near the village of Fonda, NY, turning it into a museum and chapel. By 1957, the entire Iroquois Indian village had been excavated.
“Fr. Grassman found the site while looking for the area where Kateri lived,” said Bill Jacobs, the current Executive Director of the Shrine, the first layman to hold the position. “He knew it was a holy site and wanted to make sure it would be preserved.”
Concerning Kateri’s faith, Jacobs added, “Kateri took her religion and faith out into nature, carving crosses into trees or making crosses out of sticks. There are a lot of similarities in how she saw the world and how St. Francis saw the world.”
The Shrine’s mission is to serve Native Americans and First Nations, from Canada and the U.S. Two weekends each year are dedicated to these peoples, with special Masses. The highlight of these Masses are performances by the Kanienkehaka Choir, which sings hymns in native languages while dressed in traditional clothing.
With increasing interest in St. Kateri and growing numbers of visitors, the Shrine is seeking support to create more temporary housing on site.
“Many Native Americans drawn to visit the Shine are not local,” added Jacobs. “They want to come and participate, but they need places to stay. We are working on retreat centers to allow them to stay, as well as tents and other portable housing.” †
To learn more about the Shrine and St. Kateri, or to make a donation, visit www.katerishrine.com. Please consider a gift to the Shrine today.
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Saint Teresa of Calcutta took the time to care for each person that she saw that needed a helping hand–something that each of us should do before it’s too late. I am late with my family.