Book Reviews2 Tekakwitha: Holy Native, Mohawk Virgin 1656-1680

Book written by: Rev. Edward Sherman

Although she lived well over 300 years ago, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is an amazing example of courage and dedication for the faithful of the Church today. Her life is a witness of love and humility, as well as determination in the face of hardship. In his book Tekakwitha: Holy Native, Mohawk Virgin 1656-1680, Rev. Edward Sherman explores the life of Bl. Tekakwitha. While his writing does not delve into deep or difficult theology, it gives a broad coverage of the life of this heroic woman.

Sherman begins his book by giving a brief background of the Mohawk people, explaining their houses, food, and culture in order to give the reader a context in which to place the story of Bl. Tekakwitha. Throughout the book, he includes many pictures depicting statues and paintings of Tekakwitha, along with artwork and photographs of objects typically used by Native Americans. These pictures give the reader a better cultural understanding of what life for Tekakwitha would have been like. In addition, maps and sketches included in the text help the reader visualize the regions in which she lived.

Born in a Mohawk village in present-day New York, Tekakwitha’s tribe was devastated by a major smallpox epidemic when she was young. The epidemic left the young girl an orphan with damaged vision and scars on her face. Sherman explains how Tekakwitha dealt with these obstacles and grew in holiness from a young age. He describes how she defended her faith and decision to remain a virgin against opposition from her family, who wished for her to marry and ridiculed her baptism.

When her family’s criticism of her beliefs went as far as attempts to scare her into abandoning her faith, Tekakwitha was eventually persuaded to move to St. Xavier Christian Iroquois Mission, a community near Montreal where she could freely practice her faith. Sherman goes on to tell of Bl. Tekakwitha’s life in Canada, where she helped work to sustain the community, while at the same time growing in her faith and receiving spiritual guidance from the Jesuit missionaries. She developed a great devotion to the Eucharist and loved to make frequent visits to the chapel, even early in the morning, in the freezing cold.

Because Tekakwitha never wrote anything herself, much of our current knowledge about her comes from the Jesuit missionaries who interacted with her. Two of these missionaries include Fr. Peter Cholenec, who instructed Tekakwitha in her faith and helped her prepare for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist, and Fr. Claude Chauchetière, who was greatly inspired by her sanctity and wrote about her life. Sherman compiles passages from these missionaries, citing their first-hand accounts to complement his description of the holy woman’s great virtue.

Sherman repeatedly admires Tekakwitha’s commitment in dedicating her virginity to Christ, even when well-meaning individuals urged her to find a husband to help provide for her. Tekakwitha was sure of her calling and remained steadfast, insisting that she was willing to work hard to support herself. Her strength in living her vow of chastity strengthened others.

Another interesting aspect that Sherman examines is the comparison between Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha and St Thérèse of Lisieux. Throughout the book, he makes references to the similarities in the two women’s prayer lives, commitments to virginity, and holy deaths at the age of 24, as well as their promises to continue their prayers for the living after death.

Sherman concludes his book by recounting the end of Bl. Tekakwitha’s life. He tells about her last days of illness as well as her holy death. In her final moments, she cried out, "Jesus, I love you!" Witnesses report being amazed when, at the time of her death, her scars completely vanished, and her face was left flawlessly beautiful. Miracles, including recovery from physical illnesses, freedom from addictions, and spiritual healing have been reported in connection with prayers to Bl. Tekakwitha. The book closes with a prayer and a description of the heroic woman’s path to sainthood.

Sherman writes in a very elementary style. The text is simple and offers basic facts and stories about the life of Blessed Tekakwitha. It is easy to read and covers a wide range of factual information, but do not expect it to explore deep theological concepts. Yellow boxes scattered throughout the text clarify basic Church teaching connected with the story of Tekakwitha. These boxes explain ideas such as grace, the Sacrament of Baptism, Easter, and the Holy Spirit. They seem to be directed at children or readers who may not be very familiar with the Catholic faith.

With its simple content and straightforward style, this book is not for those seeking to plunge deep into the theological mysteries of Bl. Tekakwitha’s spirituality. Rather, it offers factual information about her life, as well as cultural insights and explanations of basic Church teaching. This book is recommended for those who are interested in learning the basic story of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, including children and those who are new to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Those who read it will be inspired by the story of sanctity, devotion, and bravery in living out the Catholic faith despite all difficulties.

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