Tegakwitha (TEKAKWITHA, TAKWITA), CATHERINE, known as the “Lily of the Mohawks”, and the “Genevieve of New France“, an Indian virgin of the Mohawk tribe, b. according to some authorities at the Turtle Castle of Ossernenon, according to others at the village of Gandaouge, in 1656; d. at Caughnawaga, Canada, April 17, 1680. Her mother was a Christian Algonquin who had been captured by the Iroquois and saved from a captive’s fate by the father of Tegakwitha, to whom she also bore a son. When Tegakwitha was about four years old, her parents and brother died of small-pox and the child was adopted by her aunts and an uncle who had become chief of the Turtle clan. Although small-pox had marked her face and seriously impaired her eyesight and her manner was reserved and shrinking, her aunts began when she was as yet very young to form marriage projects for her, from which, as she grew older, she shrank with great aversion. In 1667 the Jesuit missionaries Fremin, Bruyas, and Pierron, accompanying the Mohawk deputies who had been to Quebec to conclude peace with the French, spent three days in the lodge of Tegakwitha’s uncle. From them she received her first knowledge of Christianity, but although she forthwith eagerly accepted it in her heart she did not at that time ask to be baptized. Some time later the Turtle clan moved to the north bank of the Mohawk River, the “castle” being built above what is now the town of Fonda. Here in the midst of scenes of carnage, debauchery, and idolatrous frenzy Tegakwitha lived a life of remarkable virtue, at heart not only a Christian but a Christian virgin, for she firmly and often, with great risk’ to herself, resisted all efforts to induce her to marry. When she was eighteen, Father Jacques de Lamberville arrived to take charge of the mission which included the Turtle clan, and from him, at her earnest request, Tegakwitha received baptism.
Thenceforth she practiced her religion unflinchingly in the face of almost unbearable opposition, till finally her uncle’s lodge ceased to be a place of protection to her and she was assisted by some Christian Indians to escape to Caughnawaga on the St. Lawrence. Here she lived in the cabin of Anastasia Tegonhatsihonga, a Christian squaw, her extraordinary sanctity impressing not only her own people but the French and the missionaries. Her mortifications were extreme, and Chauchtiere says that she had attained the most perfect union with God in prayer. Upon her death devotion to her began immediately to be manifested by her people. Many pilgrims visit her grave in Caughnawaga where a monument to her memory was erected by the Rev. Clarence Walworth in 1884; and the Councils of Baltimore and Quebec have petitioned for her canonization.
BLANCHE M. KELLY