Ioragode was born in 1656, likely in the Mohawk village of Ossernon. She was given her name (which meant “sunshine”) by her mother, an Alonquin Indian. When she was four years old, Ioragode’s family contracted smallpox. She was the only survivor, and the disease left her visibly scarred and partially blind. She was taken in by her uncle, a Mohawk chief, and renamed Tekakwitha, which meant “she who gropes” or “she who bumps into things.”
Tekakwitha’s mother had been Christian, and as she grew older, Tekakwitha began to admire the lives of the Jesuit missionaries who lived in her village. In 1676, she was baptized and given the name Kateri—a Mohawk iteration of Saint Catherine of Siena’s name. She remained with her people despite persecutions and mockery until her life was threatened; then, she embarked on the 200-mile journey to a Christian-Indian village outside of Montreal. She spent the last four years of her life dedicated to fasting and praying for her people, dying at only 24 years old.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized by the Catholic church in 2012, the first Native North American saint. Known now as the Lily of the Mohawks, her story is remembered as one of quiet faithfulness and humble devotion.
Today is All Saints Day.
To many with evangelical or non-denominational faith upbringings like me, this might not mean much. Or, perhaps, it does mean something—something negative. The saints are a touchy subject in the contemporary American church. But I think, if we allow ourselves to shed the theological baggage for just a moment, we might find something beautiful.
I learned of Saint Kateri this summer, and I felt like I’d found a sister. Her name was charming; her story inspiring. I looked up to her, this woman who died more than 300 years before my birth. And how exciting it is, that the history of the church is rife with stories of faithfulness like hers: Augustine, Francis, Julian, Bernard, Peter, Teresa—the list goes on.
These figures of immense faithfulness are our family. The mystery of choosing to follow Jesus, of becoming a member of the body of Christ, is that we enter into a family that transcends the bounds of time and space. The deceased saints—and by this I don’t mean merely the canonized saints of the Catholic church, but all those who’ve given their lives to Jesus—are not dead but alive, worshipping in the throne room of God.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10
I hope that this day can mean something to you—that these saints, these profound models of faith, can mean something to you. I hope that you can be encouraged by the thought that, just maybe, they are alive and active, living now in the same full presence of God that one day, God willing, we also will.
Happy All Saints Day, my friends.