The Benedictine monks of St. Gregory’s Abbey hosted their annual St. Kateri Tekakwitha Pilgrimage Day on Saturday, July 14. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who died in 1680, is the first Native American recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. Also known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” Pope Benedict XVI canonized her on October 12, 2012.

The Rt. Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B., Abbot of St. Gregory’s said, “We are grateful to offer a novena and pilgrimage day each year in honor of St. Kateri. Not only do we want to promote awareness of this great saint, but we also want to honor all American Indian peoples.”

The history of St. Gregory’s Abbey is closely bound to the Native American population of Oklahoma. “Our founders came in 1875 to serve the pastoral and educational needs of the people of Indian Territory. The pioneer monks benefitted from the generosity of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and other tribes that had been resettled in the Territory. We are grateful for the prayers, good will and support of Native American Peoples throughout our history,” Abbot Lawrence said.

Approximately one hundred pilgrims attended the activities of the day. Attendees included people of the Apache, Blackfoot, Caddo, Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Citizen Potawatomi, Comanche, Delaware, Kiowa, Lakota, Muskogee-Creek, Osage, Seminole and Wichita tribes.

The pilgrimage day began with Mass with Abbot Lawrence presiding. Mrs. Dorothy Whitehorse DeLaune, an elder of the Kiowa tribe, offered prayer in the Kiowa language. Mr. Kevin Conerwerdy, of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes, performed a ritual “cedaring” or “smudging” cleansing ceremony for all participants.

As a child, Whitehorse-DeLaune attended St. Patrick Indian Mission School. The monks had founded the school in 1892 near Anadarko. She was present for the canonization of St. Kateri in 2012 at St. Peter’s Basilica.

After Mass, the congregation processed to the statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha enshrined on the grounds of the monastery. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Women’s Hand Drum Group, Dewegen Kwek, drummed and sang songs in Potawatomi to honor St. Kateri. As Abbot Lawrence incensed the statue of St. Kateri, Dewegen Kwek sang the traditional “Strong Woman Song.” To conclude the ceremonies, all participants placed white lilies around the feet of the statue.

The monks offered to all a meal in the monastic refectory that featured traditional foods served at powwows. Girls with the name Kateri received a special gift. “We were very pleased with the turn-out for our pilgrimage day. Our plan is to include a full powwow for next year’s festivities, which will be held on July 13, 2019,” Abbot Lawrence said. The pilgrimage day is held annually on the Saturday preceding July 14, the Memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

For information about St. Gregory’s Abbey and its various program and retreat offerings for individuals and groups, call 405-878-5656 or email retreats@monksok.org.