“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” From the blood of St. Isaac Jogues, spilled by a tomahawk in the Mohawk Valley in 1646, the purest lily sprang ten years later, Kateri Tekakwitha, a holy virgin who embraced the religion of the invading French. This October 21 at the Vatican Pope Benedict XVI will canonize her as the first Native American saint. This novel tells us why.
The zeal of the French Jesuits remains unsurpassed in the annals of history. These educated, peaceful, holy men gave up the comforts of civilization to carry the word of Jesus Christ into the heart of darkness. Bravely they entered villages where the natives practiced ritualized torture and cannibalism and with patience and gentleness they turned them from superstition and violence to embrace a new paradigm of peace and love and forgiveness. But the natives saw these Jesuits as simply the first wave of imperialists, undermining their warrior culture so legions of soldiers could march in and seize their land.
A decade after the Mohawks beheaded Isaac Jogues, a little girl was born in that same village. Her life was never happy or secure. White man’s smallpox killed her parents and her brother when she was four, and left her scarred and nearly blind. Growing up in the easternmost village of the great Iroquois League, whose five nations occupied 350 miles from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, Tekakwitha felt the brunt of the white man’s imperialistic struggles, Dutch, English and French, for mastery in this land. When she was ten, Marquis de Tracy invaded and burned all Mohawk villages and their stores of winter corn.
Read Jack Casey’s Blog at Kateri’s Canonization
War and peace follow each other in unpredictable cycles, yet Tekakwitha’s integrity and quiet desire remained fixed. She listened to an inner voice that counseled her to avoid marriage, and she worked at her tasks in the long house and stay clear of gossip and intrigues. When a Jesuit happened accidentally into her long house where rested from an ankle injury, she asked him to teach her “the prayer.”
Once baptized “Katharine” – “Kateri,” as they pronounced it – her spiritual progress was unsurpassed. She escaped her culture and found peace and happiness at the Jesuit mission near Montreal. There she met Father Claude Chauchetiere, a confused young Jesuit in the throes of a spiritual crisis. Her virtue and her grace and her transfiguration at death granted him at last the certainty and purpose he looked for everywhere. He championed her cause, wrote her biography, painted her portrait and began to effect miracles with her relics.
Two Jesuit priests – Jogues the saint and Chauchetiere the doubter-turned-believer – flank the holy Kateri Tekakwitha in this fast-paced account. Out of the warfare and greed and terrorism of that day, true spiritual gifts lifted this humble, shy but willful young woman into a place of holiness and reverence among her peers. Mr. Casey’s novelized biography tells in the how Kateri Tekakwitha speaks to us across the centuries, and why the Church is elevating her as the first Native American saint.
KATERI —LILY OF THE MOHAWKS was published by Staff Picks Press in October 2012, the month Kateri Tekakwitha was sainted by the Pope. It is available for purchase through the Troy Book Makers, through independent booksellers and through Amazon.
In 1984, Casey wrote a different novel about Tekawitha, published as a mass market paperback by Bantam Books.