FT. DUCHESNE — Pope Benedict XVI canonized Saint Kateri Tekakwitha on Oct. 21, an event the Diocese of Salt Lake City celebrated in Fort Duchesne with a Mass at which Bishop John C. Wester presided. Catholics from throughout the diocese attended the open-air Mass at the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Center in Ft. Duchesne, which was followed by a reception at Saint Helen Parish in Roosevelt.
The Mass opened with the Native American Prayer to the Four Directions, conducted by Zuni Guthrie. Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop Wester were Monsignor Michael J. Winterer, who was the Saint Helen pastor on two different occasions in the 1960s and 1970s; Monsignor J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus, who helped secure Catholic facilities in the area; and Father Manuel de Jesús Ceron, administrator of the center and St. Helen and Saint James the Greater parishes. Msgr. Winterer and Msgr. Fitzgerald are now retired.
"This is a marvelous, joyous day for all of us here at the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Center, for all of us in the Uinta Basin and of course for all of us in our universal Church as just hours ago in Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven new saints, including our beloved Saint Kateri Tekakwitha," Bishop Wester said as he welcomed those present, especially members of various Native American tribes. "We’re so grateful to you for your presence and for your rich culture and your rich tradition that have enriched our lives so much."
St. Kateri was born in 1656 along the Mohawk River. Her mother was a Catholic Algonquin; her father was a traditional Mohawk. St. Kateri’s parents and younger brother died in a smallpox epidemic. She survived but the disease damaged her eyesight and scarred her body. She was baptized in 1676 and devoted herself to teaching catechism and helping the sick and aged. When she died at the age of 24, witnesses reported that the scars on her face disappeared. One miracle attributed to her was the recovery of Jake Finkbonner of Seattle, who almost died from an infection of flesh-eating bacteria. St. Kateri’s intercession is credited with saving his life. Finkbonner, 12, attended the canonization Mass in Rome and received Communion from Pope Benedict XVI.
"She was born almost 400 years ago, and yet her life – her humble, her beautiful life – continues to have a great effect on our lives," Bishop Wester said in his homily at the celebration Mass in Ft. Duchesne. "She echoes Mary’s prayer that her soul magnifies the Lord and that God has done great things in her, and today she is proclaimed a saint, one with God in the heavenly hosts."
St. Kateri knew that true greatness lies in love, Bishop Wester said. "She was going out to others, forming different communities, prayer groups, sharing the Word of God. She constantly thought of others and did not call attention to herself."
"The fact that all of Utah was invited to come and that we were celebrating together made it very big," said Kathryn Larson, who has been a St. Helen parishioner for 16 years. "It wasn’t just the Basin, it wasn’t just Ft. Duchesne, it was everybody."
The canonization also was particularly meaningful because it came while the Tekakwitha Center is celebrating its 30th year, Larson said.
Among those who attended the Mass was David Charlie, a Navajo who lives in Coyote Canyon, N.M. "It means so much that our true goodness as believers of the Spirit and in Christianity is discovered," Charlie said. "We have a lot to offer in our prayers and our mystic visions."