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2012 - Art Morsaw and family travels to Vatican for Canonization


South Bend Tribune
October 21, 2012
By LOU MUMFORD


Native American's canonization a long time coming

Local Potawatomi will be among those attending today's Mass in Rome.


HARTFORD, Mich. -- Believe in miracles?

Art Morsaw participates in canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha - Hartford MIArthur Morsaw certainly does. And, today, the Potawatomi Indian Pokagon Band member and deacon at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hartford, Mich., will be on hand with his wife, Cathy, for what might be termed a minor miracle: the canonization of a Native American, the first such person in Morsaw's culture to be so recognized.

"I honestly didn't think it would happen in my lifetime," the 67-year-old Hartford resident said last week.

Morsaw is more than a little familiar with the background of Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th-century Algonquin-Mohawk who's about to achieve sainthood. Born in 1656 in what's now Auriesville, N.Y., Tekakwitha survived a smallpox epidemic in the early 1660s that claimed her brother and parents. The illness impaired her vision, Morsaw said, and left her with pockmarks and health issues that would plague her the rest of her life.

Jesuits who wrote of Tekakwitha state that she was baptized at age 20, on Easter Sunday 1676, and that she joined other Native American converts at a Jesuit mission south of Montreal a year later. She took a vow of virginity, according to the accounts, and her devotion to her faith was such that she prayed outdoors on her knees for long periods in the winter and endured sleeping on a mat of thorns to obtain forgiveness for the past sins of her people.

Pockmarks disappear

Inviting other means of suffering took a physical toll, leading to her death at just 24. Accounts state that minutes after she died, the pockmarks on her face disappeared. Also, at least three people reported seeing her image or hearing her speak in the weeks after her death.

Pilgrimages to her grave site followed, with reports emerging that relics from her physical remains and soil from her grave assisted with healing, as did praying for her to intercede. Catholics initiated efforts to declare her a saint more than a century ago, but it wasn't until 1943 that the Vatican certified the first of the two miracles required for canonization. The second stemmed from the astounding recovery of a Ferndale, Wash., youth, a Native American named Jake Finkbonner who cut his mouth on the base of a portable basketball hoop in 2006 and absorbed a flesh-eating bacteria that rapidly progressed from his face to his chest.

Condition improves

A priest summoned to administer last rites, also a Native American, recommended to the boy's family that they pray for Tekakwitha's intervention. The prayer circle quickly expanded, involving Jake's classmates and others in the community, and on the ninth day of his hospitalization his condition took an unexpected turn for the better. That also was the day Sister Kateri Mitchell, a Mohawk who was named after Tekakwitha and who serves as executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference in Great Falls, Mont., arrived with a relic from Tekakwitha's body -- a piece of her wrist bone -- and prayed for his survival.

Mitchell, who like Morsaw is in Rome for today's canonization Mass, told The Tribune she considers Tekakwitha's elevaton to sainthood to be a miracle in itself.

"For all the indigenous Catholics who are Native Americans, there's great excitement and eagerness,'' she said. "There's great affirmation that one of our own will be known throughout the world as a holy person. Her spirit continues to sweep the nation."

Morsaw, a participant for nearly three decades in conferences seeking Tekakwitha's canonization, said he has no doubt the miracles attributed to her took place. He said he met at a recent conference a child who was born deaf but was able to hear after his parents prayed for Tekakwitha to intercede.

"The child was born without the three little bones in the inner ear that allow you to hear," he said. "After they prayed, they (the bones) were there. Pictures (X-rays) proved it."

Also, he said he has encountered on two occasions the Finkbonner youth who recovered from the flesh-eating bacteria. The boy's face "looked horrible'' when he saw him several years ago in Seattle, he said, but another encounter at a recent conference in Albany, N.Y., revealed remarkable progress.

"He looks a lot better now but he'll still have to have some surgeries," he said.

Morsaw and his wife are among some 7,000 Native Americans expected to attend the canonization Mass. It's not the first such Mass he has attended, however, as he also was in Rome for the canonization of Rose Philippine Duchesne, a nun who in the early 1800s worked with Native Americans in Missouri before reaching out to the Potawatomi in Kansas.

The Morsaws are among some 600,000 Native Americans who belong to the Catholic Church, a link that swells Arthur Morsaw with pride.

"The Potawatomi asked the priests to come here. We helped them start their missions," he said.

As for Tekakwitha and her canonization, consider it mission accomplished.

 


Herald-Palladium
November 12, 2012
by Andrew Lersten

Q&A

Canonization at close range

Hartford man partakes in sainthood service at Vatican

 

When Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized as the Roman Catholic Churchs first U.S. Indian saint in Rome last month, Arthur Morsaw of Hartford was there to witness the historic moment. Morsaw, 67, is a deacon with the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hartford, and a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. Tekakwitha was a Mohawk Indian who died in 1680 at the age of 24. She is also known as the Lily of the Mohawks. Not only was Morsaw in Rome for the ceremony, he also served as a eucharistic minister for the mass, wearing garments on loan from the Diocese of Kalamazoo. He was in Italy for 11 days, with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. He recently spoke with reporter Andrew Lersten about his experience overseas.


          Was this your first time in Rome?

No. I was there before, for the 1988 canonization of Rose Phillipine Duchesne.

How long had you been waiting for Kateri Tekakwitha to be named a saint?

          I started going to the national Tekakwitha conferences in 1985.


So this had been a long time coming.


         Yes. She was beatified in the 40s.


Is it typical to take that long?

Sometimes it takes centuries. They need two miracles. That kind of promotes your cause. Of course we prayed for it. I honestly didnt think I would see it in my lifetime.

Tell us why its such a historic time.

She the first U.S. saint to be a Native American. It has a great impact for all of us. Now we have a regular advocate for us in heaven. Its a great time for renewal of our faith.

When you went to this years Tekakwitha conference in July, did you know she would be canonized this year?

No, but we knew they had all the paperwork. We knew they are getting close.

So when did you find out it was going to happen?

Probably in September sometime.

What was it like to be there? Describe the ceremony.

It lasted about two hours plus. Youre in St. Peters Square. Its held outside because theres so many people. Before we left, they said they were looking for eucharistic ministers. I told them I would go, and that yes, I would serve. I was told I needed a cassock and surplice (to wear). The Diocese of Kalamazoo loaned them to me and then I left. The Vatican sent over a special pass by courier to my hotel room. We were out sightseeing. That pass got me into the building so I could vest for mass.

What was going through your head when you were taking part in the mass?

I was having a hard time believing I was there. The pope was maybe 10-20 yards from me. I was on the altar.

How long have you been a deacon?

         Since June 27, 1999.


A lot of people may not realize the close relationship between the Pokagons and the Catholic Church.


         Thats the predominant faith.


In a way, the four of you from Southwest Michigan were representing the Pokagons.


         It wasnt official. But they did put us on their website.


Any other comments about your experience?


         It was a once in a lifetime thing.


Art is a 1964 Hartford High School graduate. 

Read more interesting Potawatomi history articles on the History of Hartford website at http://www.hartfordmichigan.com/hartfordhistory/Potawatomi/PotawatomiHistory.htm

                                              


Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 



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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.


Revised: May 27, 2015


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