Kateri Tekakwitha, known as “the Lily of the Mohawk”, was born in 1656 of a captive Algonquin mother and an Iroquois chieftain. Her mother was a Christian but dared not baptize Kateri or her younger brother. When an epidemic of smallpox broke out in 1660, the little girl lost her mother and brother, perhaps also her father at that time; she herself nearly succumbed to the malady.
Her uncle, who adopted her, later wanted her to marry a young Iroquois her own age, but she refused, having already experienced the horror of the Iroquois brutalities. When in 1675 Father Jacques de Lamberville, Jesuit missionary, discovered on the banks of the Mohawk River this “beautiful lily”, he transplanted her to the mission of St. Francis Xavier near Montreal, which had been founded a few years before. She received her first Communion there on Christmas day of 1676.
In 1679, on the feast of the Annunciation, with the authorization of one of the Fathers at the mission, Kateri privately pronounced a vow of perpetual chastity and consecrated herself to the Blessed Virgin. From that time on, she and her rosary were inseparable. Her health had never been strong, and her penances contributed to weakening it further. It was during Holy Week of 1680 that this young Indian maiden quietly expired, invoking the names of Jesus and Mary. Miracles and favors were attributed to her soon after her death.
In 1943, Pope Pius XII admitted the cause of beatification, approving the decree on the heroism of her virtues. Saint Kateri had appeared to some Polish prisoners during World War II, telling them she was named a patron of their country and brought about their release. They described to the Jesuits of their own country, the young Indian girl whom they had all seen in their vision, and learned who she was — Kateri, Lily of the Mohawk, the Canadian Indian girl who had attained sanctity very young and died at the age of 24 years. She was beatified in 1980, canonized in 1991.
The oldest portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha is an oil painting on canvas 41"x37" painted by Father Chauchetière between 1682-1693. It hangs in the sacristy of St. Francis Xavier Church on the Kanawaké Mohawk Reservation on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, near Montréal, Québec.