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New Mexico’s St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine honors patron saint of Native Americans

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“People learn through symbols and things they see. Architecture is a teaching tool.”

Catholic architect Erik Boostma, a former parishioner of the Diocese of Arlington who now works and lives in Richmond, primarily works on churches and renovations. His latest project is a little different — though still a center for spirituality and devotion — he’s designed a new shrine dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Gallup, N.M.

“The Church — big C — says that a church is a sign and symbol of heavenly realities, and so that is what we are trying to do and communicate when we build a church,” said Bootsma. “We build it with a nave and a sanctuary, the sanctuary points to the Temple of Solomon, and the Temple of Solomon of course points to the presence of God. It points to the fact that the Eucharist is there in the tabernacle, in the Mass, and we celebrate these things. All the parts of the architecture point toward that truth,” he said.

“We believe in the true presence, we believe that we are trying to teach with it but also honor it,” he said. “We are trying to honor the fact that God is there and present with us. We honor him by the beauty of what we do and the beauty of the decoration. It’s an act of worship in and of itself to build in this way.”

The Knights of Columbus are spearheading the first phase of the shrine, which includes a rosary walk. A chapel and museum will follow in the second, and a large-scale crucifix will complete the design in the last phase.

Sites such as the shrine being dedicated to the Native American saint — canonized in 2012 and the patron saint of Native Americans, Indigenous and First Nations peoples — help bring awareness and evangelization to a populace that may be otherwise ignored.

“People learn through symbols and things they see,” said Bootsma. “Architecture is a teaching tool.”

Father Henry Sands, director of the National Black and Indian Foundation, said, “This shrine is particularly meaningful for Native American Catholics because it is dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha. It’s an acknowledgement of the role that she plays in the Catholic Church, not just as an example for Native Americans, but for all Catholics.”


“To recognize a saint who is Native American and to have it located in this diocese, which has the highest percentage of Native American Catholics in the United States, is very significant,” said Father Sands.

“The Diocese of Gallup is also one of the poorest in the country, and the increase in people visiting the area and shrine should significantly boost the local economy and tourism,” said Bootsma.

This shrine is very important to Bill McCarthy, chief executive officer of the Southwest Indian Foundation, and Gallup Bishop James S. Wall, he added.

Construction of the shrine began Aug. 12, with tentative completion in 2021.

Bootsma said he builds traditionally, and what they are doing in New Mexico follows this idea. “We are building these little shrines using traditional adobe techniques that the Native Americans developed, and were adopted by the Spanish architecture there,” he said. “We’re not going to be building them using high tech new materials, but old materials that we hope will last for centuries.”

The rosary walk will include 23 outdoor adobe niches designed by a Catholic artist from a Native American tribe — further distinguishing this site as important to the native people of New Mexico.

The shrine will be a beacon for pilgrims and tourists across North America both spiritually and literally once the several-hundred-foot tall crucifix is built.

Bootsma has worked independently over the past five years. The happiness he gets from being an architect and sharing his faith is tangible. “I am able to see that people really respond to what I have done,” he said. “No job is too small for me, because every church, even the small churches, deserve to have something beautiful in them and have things that are spiritual.”

Find out more
Go to bootsmadesign.com.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019