Celebration planned to honor Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Friday, Jun. 28, 2024
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

FORT DUCHESNE — Utah Catholics will honor St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be recognized as a saint, on July 10 at the mission named for her in Fort Duchesne. The annual celebration is organized by the parishes of St. Helen in Roosevelt and St. James the Greater in Vernal and the diocesan Native American Commission, along with the mission.

This year Bishop Oscar A. Solis, diocesan staff members and Catholics from across the state will participate in the celebration, which will include a 10:30 a.m. rosary procession from the mission to the Fort Duchesne Community Center. It will be followed by an 11 a.m. Mass; Bishop Solis will preside. Afterward participants will gather for a reception where Ute children and a hoop dancer will perform native American dances.

Honoring St. Kateri Tekakwitha on a date near her feast day is a way to celebrate the heritage and culture of native American Catholics who live in the area, said Father Edward Leondhas, administrator of the two parishes and the mission.

“It is a very small community there,” he said. “When we celebrate [the feast day], they come with their own culture. They have their own cultural events, dance and programs, and they often come dressed in costume. They have the feeling of oneness there with the feast.”

Dolores Lopez, a member of the Native American Commission, agreed. The purpose of the celebration is to help Native Americans Catholics feel a kinship with their faith through veneration of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, she said. “They are among the smallest group within our religious communities, but they do attend.”

Tekakwitha (her given name) was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father. After her family died during a smallpox outbreak, she was raised by her uncle, a Mohawk chief. At age 19, she converted to Catholicism and took a vow of chastity, pledging to marry only Jesus Christ. Her family and neighbors did not accept her decision. To avoid persecution, she traveled to a Christian native community south of Montreal.

At baptism she took the name Kateri, the Mohawk form of Catherine, in honor of St. Catherine of Siena.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha was known for her faith and devotion, and many healings have been attributed to her. In her lifetime, these included a dying man, a woman in critical condition and the healing of a priest, Fr. Bruyas.

More recently, the healing of Jake Finkbonner, a Washington state boy who was attacked by flesh-eating bacteria in 2006 was attributed to St. Kateri Tekakwitha; this miracle helped paved the way for her canonization.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, whose nickname is Lily of the Mohawks, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012. She is the patroness of ecology and the environment, people in exile and Native Americans. Each year around July 14, the anniversary of her flight to Canada, the saint is commemorated in events across the United States. In Canada her feast day is April 17.

WHAT: Celebration to honor St. Kateri Tekakwitha

WHEN: July 10

WHERE: Fort Duchesne Community Center

                   7723 Small Loop Road, Fort Duchesne

Free and open to the public.

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