Monday, June 18, 2018
Small Wonder(s)--Saint Catharine
We don't know much about the boy. Maybe he was everyone else's last choice. Could be. Maybe he wasn't much of a warrior. Maybe his parents set him up with this girl, or there'd never have been a marriage at all.
Then again not. Maybe the kid was bold and strong. Maybe most the girls in the village would have loved to have him. Maybe he was a real catch.
Remember, the girl was the daughter of the chief. I mean, she wore some scars from the smallpox plague that rampaged through her village, leaving her orphaned, her Huron father and Mohawk mother (her mom was booty in a raid) both died, as did a host of others. The truth was, the girl, Tekakwitha, was forever sickly thereafter. She couldn't have been a doll, but her adoptive father was important, the village headman.
Truth is, no one knows much about the boy her adoptive parents wanted her to marry, but lots of people know lots about Tekakwitha, in part because she refused to marry the kid, whoever he was. She flat refused. She was only seventeen, but her age was no big deal because other Mohawk women quite regularly got married at a much younger age. In fact, her parents were almost distraught and more than a little angry when she wouldn't give the kid the corn stew traditionally considered her okay to the marriage. Just flat wouldn't do feed him, said she wasn't going to marry him because she was not going to marry anyone. Period. Full stop.
Gutsy, even a little feminist for a 17th century Native American in the forests of New York. But in refusing the poor kid's hand, she also determined she would become, thereafter, a Roman Catholic, and listen to the teachings of the Black Robes. In truth, her birth mom had been Catholic before her, but within the longhouse where she lived, her conversion didn't go over well.
No matter. What Tekakwitha lacked in physical strength she made up for in steely resolve, eventually leaving her village for a convent just outside of Montreal, along with other Native women scorned for taking on the faith of white men in black robes.
She was baptized on Easter Sunday, 1676, and, thereafter, in a typical white man's way, given a far less Native name--Catharine. People claim she was known to sleep on thorns and deliberately taint her food to make it taste horrible, self-mortification rituals as much medieval Catholic as traditionally Mohican.
She'd been sickly for her entire life, often wore a blanket over her head to cover the scars from the smallpox she suffered as a child. And just four years after her baptism, she died. Those attending her death--and this is important--claimed that as her spirit rose, those thick scars across her face simply vanished as she grew radiant with her spirit rising to eternity.
You might just be wondering what on earth all of this has to do with Siouxland?
Listen. There are good reasons to go to Marty, South Dakota, the Yankton Reservation. There's the gorgeous Missouri valley stepladder on your way for starters, and the historic town of Greenwood, with its old Presbyterian church. There's a hilltop treaty monument, and, somewhere hovering over the place, the ghost of Struck by the Ree, who a newborn, people say, was held by Lewis and Clark, camping right there along the river, who wrapped him in an American flag.
By all means stop at St. Paul's Church in Marty--you can't miss it. When you walk around the grounds, stop at the statue of the Indian girl with an unpronounceable name, Tekakwitha. You can call her Catharine, if that's easier. Step inside, where two more of her likenesses grace the gorgeous old cathedral.
You don't have to be Catholic. Maybe it helps a little, but this young woman is worth noting, the first and only, Vatican-declared Native American woman saint.
Call it a pilgrimage. Call it a road trip. Call it what you will. Whether you believe any of her story is up to you. But if you get out to Marty sometime, promise me you'll stand there for a while, inside or out, and look into the girl's face. I might even promise a blessing.