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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Two New American Saints: St. Kateri and St. Marianne

It's an exciting day for American Catholics as the Church raises the Lily of the Mohawks and Mother Marianne of Molokai to sainthood. Christians are called to both a life of prayer and a life of service and these holy women remind us of both.

St. Kateri lost her parents and brother in a smallpox epidemic and was herself severely scarred with impaired eyesight. She was adopted by her maternal uncle and became skilled in all the women's arts of weaving, basket making, etc. When the Blackrobes came to live among the Mohawks, Kateri was drawn to the faith. Her decision to remain a virgin brought persecution and ridicule from the tribe, but she persisted until, finally, with the help of the Jesuits, she left her home near Auriesville in upstate New York and fled to a mission near Montreal. There she devoted herself to prayer and mortification. She died at age 23 or 24 saying, "Jesus, I love you." The epitaph on her gravestone reads, "Kateri Tekawitha, the fairest flower that ever bloomed among red men." Within a few minutes of her death, Kateri's pockmarked complexion became smooth and beautiful reflecting her inner purity.

Mother Marianne of Molokai was a heroine to the people of Hawaii. She arrived in Hawaii with a group of sisters in 1883. In the next few years she opened a hospital and a home for the homeless children of parents who died of leprosy. After the government reinstituted the policy of segregating leprosy patients, she joined Fr. Damien on the island of Molokai and became his successor a few months later when he succumbed to the dreaded disease. Mother Marianne carried through many of the visions Fr. Damien had for the refuge on Molokai and became known as the heroine of Molokai.

St. Kateri and St. Marianne present the ideal of the Catholic apostolate: love God, and love neighbor. They were both committed to prayer and service. Kateri's apostolate was primarily prayer and mortification and Mother Marianne's was to serve the the sick and suffering. Both showed incredible courage as they made difficult choices to answer God's call.

As we celebrate these two new women saints, I can't help thinking of the relentless attack on the Church as a misogynist  institution that denegrates women. St. Kateri and St. Marianne are simply the latest to put the lie to that canard. The Church offers hundreds of strong, courageous women saints for emulation: founders of abbeys like St. Clare and St. Scholastica; mothers and martyrs like St. Perpetua, St. Felicity and St. Margaret Clitherow; mystics and writers like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Edith Stein. The list of women saints shows women at their best, holy and happy serving Our Blessed Lord. Rejoice and be glad! St. Kateri and St. Marianne, pray for us.

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