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A Mass. Family’s Quest For Native American’s Sainthood

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(credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

ERVING, Mass. (AP) — Thirty-two years after her mother traveled to the Vatican for the beatification of a Native American Catholic woman who had died 300 years before that, Anna Jarvis will travel to Rome with her daughter, Roberta Allen, for the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha.

The tearful pair said that to be at the Vatican when Pope Benedict XVI declares the Native American of Mohawk decent, known as Lily of the Mohawks, a saint will be almost as exciting as being there for Jarvis’ mother, who died in 1993 and would have loved to have known her family completed her quest.

“She so wanted to see Kateri canonized,” said Allen of Erving. “She worked very hard to help get her there.”

Tekakwitha will be America’s first indigenous saint.

In 1980, Josephine Warisose Angus traveled to the Vatican to watch the beatification of Kateri Tekakwitha, which is a recognition by the Roman Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and the capacity for the church to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in that person’s name. Pope John Paul II performed the ceremony at that time and Tekakwitha was given the title, “Blessed Kateri.”

“My grandmother was a member and one of the first officers of the Akwesasne Kateri Circle, a group that advocated for her canonization,” said Allen. “We were asked by the Kateri Circle to go to the canonization in my grandmother’s name.”

Allen said all Mohawk reservations have a Kateri Circle. She, her grandmother and her mother, like Tekakwitha, are of Mohawk descent — and all three are Catholic like Tekakwitha.

“You have to live on a reservation to be a member of the circle . That’s why we had to be asked,” said Jarvis of Erving.

Jarvis said that like Tekakwitha, her mother was committed to the Catholic faith. But, she said, in the 1600s, unlike over the past few decades, turning outside of Mohawk faith was frowned upon.

“Kateri faced ridicule for converting to Christianity,” said Jarvis. “I’m glad my mother didn’t.”

Pope Benedict XVI cleared the way last December for Tekakwitha to become a saint, something the two women weren’t sure would ever happen.

“The only sad thing is that my mother didn’t get to see this happen,” said Jarvis.

There are four steps to becoming a saint in the Catholic religion:

First, the church opens an investigation into the virtues of the individual after members of the faith petition it to do so.

Second, the body is exhumed and examined.

Third, the person is recommended for sainthood and beatification takes place.

Finally, the person is canonized, but only after the church attributes two miracles to him or her.

Jarvis and Allen said the two miracles connected with Tekakwitha are the smallpox scars that disappeared from her face when she died in 1680, and the recovery of a dying boy in Seattle, Wash., in 2006, which was 326 years after her death.

It appears the Native American woman who was born in 1656 and grew up in the Mohawk Valley in New York watched her parents and siblings die of smallpox. She contracted the disease when she was a teen, but survived with some damage to her eyesight and with facial scars.

When she died, those who buried her said she glowed and her scars disappeared, according to investigations done by the Catholic Church.

In 2006, a 6-year-old boy cut his lip during a game in Washington. His face swelled and he developed a fever and according to reports by the church, doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital said a flesh-eating bacteria was attacking his face. It eventually destroyed his lips, cheeks and forehead.

Catholics from around the world began to pray to Kateri Tekakwitha — she was chosen because of the facial scars she lived with, said Allen — and soon after, the disease inexplicably stopped progressing and the boy recovered.

The Catholic Church declared it a miracle after a 3½-year investigation.

Tekakwitha will become America’s first indigenous saint in October.

“I’m so proud to go for my mother,” said Jarvis. “I never dreamed I’d have the same chance she did so many years ago.”

Allen said her grandmother will have tears in her eyes, if she knows about Tekakwitha and about her daughter and granddaughter making the trip.

“She’s dancing in Heaven,” said Allen. “She’s doing a ceremonial dance. I can hear her moccasins.”

Jarvis and Allen said they don’t know what to expect when they get to the Vatican, but can’t wait to meet the pope. The two said they received some donations to help cover their costs of their trip and saved the rest.

“I’ve been doing extra landscaping jobs all summer,” said Allen, who has been a special education paraprofessional at Erving Elementary School for the past 16 years.

Jarvis is a retired caregiver who has six children, 19 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.

They said it will cost about $1,000 each to make the eight-day trip, which will included local guided tours and the canonization ceremony. They will leave the area on Oct. 17 to spend the night on a reservation in Canada and will leave from Montreal on Oct. 18.

The mother-daughter pair will hold a fundraiser — their final push — on Sept. 15 at The Route 63 Roadhouse in Millers Falls at 2 p.m.

They are selling 100 tickets at $20 each for a raffle that will have four winners, with prizes of $500, $250, $100 and $50. There were 10 tickets left at the end of last week.

Allen said there will also be a coffee can raffle to raffle off numerous items donated by local businesses and individuals, a 50-50 raffle and free food. She said the event is free and open to the public.

“Anyone who wants to stop by is welcome,” she said. “If anyone would like to bring a dish, that would be nice, too.”

The women plan to cook hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill.

For more information, or to purchase one of the “main raffle” tickets, call Allen at 413-824-8811.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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