Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kateri Tekakwitha -- Anniversary of Sainthood

Portrait of Kateri by Fr. Chauchetiere
Tomorrow, October 21, 2013, will be the one-year anniversary of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, the Mohawk woman from Caughnawaga in the Mohawk Valley, who converted to Christianity in the 17th century. I just finished reading a fictionalized biography of Kateri written by local author Jack Casey. The story is told in large part from the point of view of Father Claude Chauchetiere, one of the Jesuit priests who knew her. The picture to the left is a photograph of the portrait he painted of her from memory several years after her death. It hangs in the St. Francis Xavier Church on the Kanawaké Mohawk Reservation on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, near Montréal, Québec.

I have long been fascinated by Kateri's story, partly because she was a contemporary of some of my Dutch ancestors who were also closely connected with the Mohawks. This afternoon I took a ride out to the Kateri shrine west of Fonda in the Mohawk Valley, lit a candle for Kateri, and walked up the hill to the excavated "castle" of Caughnawaga, where she spent much of her early life. Rather than repeat what has been written about her in the several hundred books about her, I thought it interesting to compare the timeline of her lifespan with events connected with my own ancestors of the same era. I am still left wondering whether her path ever crossed with any of theirs. I may never know, but it's entirely possible since the time and place were so close.

 Timeline:

1634 - Cornelis Van Slyke emigrates from Breucklen in the Netherlands to Nieuw Nederland on the ship the Eendracht. Some time later, he marries a Mohawk woman named Otstoch, from the village of Canajoharie.

ca. 1640 - Jacques Van Slyke, son of Cornelis and Otstoch, born in Canajoharie.(The couple had several other children, but Jacques is the one who is my ancestor.)

Kateri statue at the shrine
1656 - Tekakwitha, daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Christian Algonquin woman, born in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon (now Auriesville), on the south bank of the Mohawk River.

1660 - Smallpox epidemic at Ossernenon: Tekakwitha's parents and baby brother die of the illness; she is scarred and left with impaired sight, taken in by aunt and uncle.

1661 - Cornelis and his son Jacques are among the first settlers to establish Schenectady. 

1664 - The English capture Nieuw Nederland from the Dutch. 

1666 - A war party composed of French and their Huron allies attacks the Mohawk villages on the south side of the river, including Ossernenon. The surviving villagers move to the north side of the river and rebuild, naming their new village Caughnawaga, "the place near the rapids." Following their defeat by the French, Mohawks are compelled to allow Jesuit missionaries to live among them.

1673 - 1674 - The Dutch recapture Nieuw Nederland for a brief period. 

1676 - Having been instructed in the Catholic faith by the missionaries, Tekakwitha is baptized  on Easter, April 18, 1676. She is given the Christian name Kateri (Catherine).

1676 - Cornelis Van Slyke dies. His son Jacques and daughter Hilletie continue to reside at Schenectady, where Jacques is the first tavern keeper in the village. The Van Slykes maintain contact with Mohawk relatives in Canajoharie.

Path up the hill to the village
1677 - Kateri leaves Caughnawaga for the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, a settlement of Christianized Native Americans in Canada. The settlement is also named Caughnawaga (spelled Kahnawake). Kateri makes her first communion on Christmas Day. According to documents recorded by Jesuit priests in Kahnawake, Kateri was known for her kindness in working with the elderly and sick.

1680 - Kateri becomes ill and dies on April 17, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday.

1690 - On February 8, Schenectady is attacked by a combined force of French and their Native American allies, who had swooped down from Montreal. Sixty settlers are killed in the massacre and many more taken prisoner, but Jacques and his family  are not harmed. Later that spring, Jacques dies of an unknown illness, having dictated his will on his presumed deathbed.


When one walks up the hill from the chapel near the roadside to the excavated village at the top, it is hard to think of all the bloodshed and sickness that roiled around this area three hundred fifty years ago. The woods are peaceful now, the quiet only broken by the crunch of our feet on the fallen leaves and the cries of geese heading south.

Site of excavated village of Caughnawaga



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Sources:

In Mohawk Country: Early Narratives about a Native People. Dean Snow, Charles T. Gehring, Wm. A. Starna, eds. Syracuse University Press, 1996.

Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks. Jack Casey. Staff Picks Press, Albany, NY. 2012.

The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha. Diane Glancy. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY. 2009.

National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine. http://www.katerishrine.com/kateri.html . Accessed October 20, 2013.


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