American's canonization a long time coming
Local Potawatomi will be
among those attending today's Mass in Rome.
Mich. -- Believe in miracles?
Arthur 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
are among some 600,000 Native Americans who belong to the Catholic Church,
a link that swells Arthur Morsaw with pride.
Potawatomi asked the priests to come here. We helped them start their
missions," he said.
Tekakwitha and her canonization, consider it mission accomplished.
When Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized as the Roman
Catholic Church’s 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
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 didn’t think
I would see it in my lifetime.
Tell us why it’s such a historic time.
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. It’s a great
time for renewal of our faith.
When you went to this year’s Tekakwitha
conference in July, did you know she would be canonized this year?
we knew they had all the paperwork. We knew they are getting close.
So when did you find out it was going to
in September sometime.
What was it like to be there? Describe the
lasted about two hours plus. You’re in St. Peter’s Square. It’s held
outside because there’s 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
What was going through your head when you
were taking part in the mass?
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.
That’s the predominant faith.
In a way, the four of you from Southwest Michigan
were representing the Pokagons.
It wasn’t official. But they did put us on their website.
Any other comments about your experience?
It was a once in a lifetime thing.