Jul 14, 2014

New statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha is dedicated at local parish



Story and photos by Rebecca Drake

CHICOPEE – She is the patroness of the environment, for those with afflictions of the skin and eyes, and for all who seek purity. And thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, local Catholics now have a special place to pray to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.”

Following the noon Mass today at St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Basilica, here, a golden statue of the first Native American woman to be canonized was blessed and dedicated in its permanent location, a shrine erected on the lawn outside of the friary, the residence of the parish’s Conventual Franciscan priests and brothers.

The principal celebrant of the Mass was Conventual Franciscan Father James McCurry, provincial minister of the Our Lady of the Angels Province, recently formed from the merger of the former St. Anthony and Immaculate Conception provinces of Conventual Franciscans. Conventual Franciscan Father Mieczyslaw Wit, administrator of St. Stanislaus Basilica, was the concelebrant.

Father McCurry, a Springfield native, provided biographical details of the life of St. Kateri, who was born in 1656 in what is now upstate New York. Kateri was left disfigured and visually impaired at age 4 or 5 by a smallpox epidemic that killed her parents and her younger brother. The name “Tekakwitha,” as Father McCurry explained, is translated as “She Who Bumps Into Things,” referring to the young girl’s difficulty in ambulating due to her impaired vision.

“Eventually, she would bump into Jesus Christ,” Father McCurry said, when she encountered Jesuit missionaries in 1667.

As her interest in and dedication to Christianity grew, Kateri, who was baptized in 1676, was ostracized and abused by members of her tribe. A Jesuit priest, Father Jacques de Lamberville, helped her escape to the St. Francis-Xavier Mission of La Prairie in Kahnawake, Canada.

Kateri died in 1680 at the age of 24. Accounts of her death state that 15 minutes after she died, the scars that had disfigured her face disappeared, and many sick people who attended her funeral were cured. She was canonized on Oct. 21, 2012. Her feast day is July 14.

“She lived an outstanding life of consecration,” Father McCurry said during his homily, noting that Kateri took vows of perpetual chastity and perpetual virginity and also made an act of total consecration to the Virgin Mary. He noted that “tens of thousands of Native Americans converted (to Christianity) because of the holy witness of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.”

“And she continues to shower upon us from heaven a bouquet of lilies,” he said, “her goodness and her charity.”

Father McCurry told worshippers that St. Kateri “testifies to the power of divine love that never deserts us… She gives an example of courage to be steadfast in the faith that we possess.”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Father Wit thanked all those in attendance, noting that due to the larger numbers there, “I have the impression that today is Sunday.”

“I am so grateful that so many came to pray,” said Father Wit. “Thank you to everyone who came to pray with us and to pray for the intercession of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.”

The celebrants, lector and altar servers then led a procession out of the church and then to the lawn beyond the parking lot, where the statue of St. Kateri had been placed in a small garden setting.

After the blessing and dedication, worshippers were invited to venerate a first-class relic of the saint and also received a second-class relic and prayer card from Ludlow resident Richard Coache, who is a descendant of St. Kateri and a longtime promoter of devotions to her.

Click here for a photo gallery of the Mass and dedication: http://www.iobserve.org/index.php?mact=Gallery,m6e73e,default,1&m6e73edir=Dedication-of-St-Kateri-Statue%2F&m6e73ereturnid=51&page=51

A video report on the Mass and dedication of the St. Kateri statue will be featured on an upcoming edition of the Springfield Diocese's weekly newsmagazine, "Real to Reel," which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-TV22.