Lily of the Mohawks to be canonized Oct. 21

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NEW ORLEANS - Among the thousands of pilgrims trekking to Rome for the Oct. 21 canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha - "the Lily of the Mohawks" - will be 4-year-old Katherine Kateri Howat from Metairie, La., dressed as a Mohawk princess.

She likely will be on her father's shoulders in St. Peter's Square trying to take in the celebration.

Kateri will become the first member of a North American tribe to be declared a saint.

One day, Cory Howat hopes his daughter will recognize that the sea of people in Rome to honor Blessed Kateri were drawn there by her simplicity and holiness.

"This is a journey for her to be able to personally know a strong woman in the church who loves Christ," said Howat, director of stewardship for the New Orleans Archdiocese. "If Katherine Kateri can love Christ somewhat close to the way Kateri did, we've done our jobs as parents," he told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans.

The thousands of people making the pilgrimage from the U.S. for the canonization will include more than 720 people who are part of a contingent coordinated by Father Wayne Paysse, a New Orleans archdiocesan priest who is director of the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington.

Father Paysse said the office was able to raise money to so that some of the Native American pilgrims can travel to Rome.

"They are coming from all over the U.S.," Father Paysse said. "This is a historic moment in the church universal but also among the Native American communities in the U.S. I think Kateri - saint-to-be Kateri - models for us what it means to be responsive and proactive to our baptismal grace. We are all called to be missionaries by virtue of our baptism."

Howat and his wife, Molly, decided to name their daughter Katherine Kateri - in English, it's actually Katherine Katherine - because of his intense interest in Blessed Kateri's life. Born in 1656 in upstate New York, Blessed Kateri lost both of her parents, a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, in a small pox epidemic when she was a child.

Howat's devotion to Blessed Kateri began in childhood, in part because they share a July 14 birthday. He got his first inkling of Blessed Kateri from his mother, who as a child in school had read stories about her. Kateri was declared venerable in 1943.

"They used to pray to Venerable Kateri, and when my mom heard about this trip she pulled out an original Kateri prayer card," Howat said. "It was a novena card praying for her canonization."

After Kateri's beatification in 1980, Howat's ties to her grew even stronger. His parents welcomed into their home and cared for a teenager who had lost both of his parents. That teen, Marchant Kenney, went to Jesuit High School with Howat and they graduated in 1993. During his last few years at Jesuit, Kenney lived at Boys Hope, a house in which teenagers with difficult family situations live in community and attend Catholic high school.

Kenney went on to play football at the University of Southern Mississippi. Howat eventually became executive director of Boys Hope New Orleans.

Howat said his wife would stay home to care for their other child, 22-month-old James.

Others from the archdiocese making the pilgrimage include Sister Kateri Battaglia, a member Marianites of Holy Cross, who is director of mission integration at Our Lady of Wisdom Health Care Center.

"After our first year as a novice, when you receive the habit, you are able to give two names, and I had read her life as a young girl," said Sister Kateri, whose birth name was Katherine Marie. "At first, they thought it would be too difficult for the children to pronounce, but I took that chance and received that name and it's been my name for 50 years.

"This is so wonderful. I never dreamed this would happen. I prayed and prayed for her beatification, and I thought I wouldn't live to be able to celebrate her canonization."

Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970