Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to Iroquois parents in the Ossernenon region, now in New York State, where just a few years earlier Jesuits Jogues, Goupil and de La Lande were martyred. When Kateri was four years old, a smallpox epidemic struck Ossernenon killing her mother, her father and her younger brother, leaving little Kateri with serious vision and skin problems. Her eyes were hypersensitive to light so people called her "Tekakwitha", which means "she who seeks the way" or "she who bumps into things."
As an orphan, she lived under the protection of an uncle who was opposed to Christianity. However, the good Catholic principles that her mother had instilled in her and the grace of God led her to become a Christian. In 1667, a meeting with three Jesuit missionaries contributed to the growth of this aspiration: their Superior, Father de Lamberville, decided to bestow on her the Sacrament of Baptism on Easter day, 1676 under the name of Kateri. From then on, she lived her personal relationship with Christ crucified fervently. For more than a year, her family made her life difficult and sometimes deprived her of food because she refused to work on Sundays. Father de Lamberville encouraged her to go and live in the Saint Francis Xavier mission on the south bank of the St. Lawrence river, which was opposite Montreal in today's Kahnawake. Father de Lamberville later confirmed that Kateri had never wavered in her religious fervor even when her people gave her a hard time.
Distancing herself from the Iroquois tribal traditions, Kateri's love for Jesus was so intense that, under divine intervention, she refused to marry a young man designated by the tribal leaders; she intended to live in union with Christ. On Christmas day, 1677, Kateri was allowed to receive the Eucharist. She then lived another three years as a member of the village, giving an example of Christian virtue, especially charity towards those suffering and in need.
She practically lived in the chapel. She would arrive at four in the morning and attend mass at dawn and at dusk. She visited the Blessed Sacrament several times during the day and in the evening. She prayed with great fervor and developed a deep interior life. She prayed that her people would welcome the Good News of love that had filled her life and she practiced fasting and mortification, sometimes even to an excessive degree.
Convinced of her purity and love for the person of Christ, on March 25, 1679, her director, Father Cholenec, allowed her to take the Lord's vow of perpetual virginity. It was the first such recognized act among North American Indians.
On April 17, 1680, worn by a fever at the age of 24, she died peacefully saying as her last words: "Jesus, I love you!" After her death, the signs of smallpox disappeared from her face.
Kateri's pure body was not placed in poor tree bark, wrapped in a blanket, according to the Indian custom, but in a wooden box. Indians and Frenchmen began to flock to her grave from all over the world, even from Montreal and Quebec. Through her intercession, miracles multiplied. The relics of the Native American Virgin, placed inside an ebony box, have been kept by the Jesuit Fathers in Caughnawaga since 1719 in the diocese of Albany. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and was canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.