Kateri Tekakwitha and the Los Angeles Indian Community

Dr. Rebecca Rosser’s (former AISC Assistant Director) research focuses on Kateri (Catherine) Tekakwitha’s influence on the City of Angels Kateri Circle. Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and an Algonkian mother on the south bank of the Mohawk River, near what is now Auriesville, New York. When she was four years old, a smallpox epidemic claimed the lives of her parents and brother, and left Tekakwitha weak, scarred, and with damaged eyesight. After encountering Jesuit missionaries in 1674, she began to take religious instruction. In 1676, at the age of twenty, she was baptized and given the name Katherine, which was later translated as Kateri. One year later, she moved to the Francis Xavier Mission (Kahnawake) near Montreal and died three years after that. On June 22, 1980, Pope John Paul II beatified Tekakwitha, and she remains the only American Indian to hold such an auspicious position. When canonized on October 21, 2012, she will be the first Native American (from what is now the United States) to enter into sainthood. Most of the knowledge about Kateri comes from a series of pious biographies compiled by members of the Jesuit Order, the same order that claims responsibility for her conversion to Christianity. The earliest writings on her life date to 1680, the year of Tekakwitha’s death.

Contemporary devotion to Kateri follows in a long tradition of recognition of her life as a Christian and, more interestingly, as a Native Christian woman. Kateri Circles come out of the desire of Catholics, especially American Indian Catholics, to express their love and devotion to Kateri Tekakwitha. The Tekakwitha Conference, the official organization that oversees Kateri Circles in the United States and Canada, celebrated their seventieth anniversary in 2009. The City of Angels Kateri Circle was formed in early 1980s and remains one of the largest circles in the country. Members of this group represent tribes from throughout the United States.