Kateri’s relationship with the Jesuits was a lot more positive, at least according to the accounts the Jesuits themselves passed down. Born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in what is now Auriesville, N.Y., she’s been called both the Lily of the Mohawks and the Iroquois Virgin.
A smallpox epidemic orphaned her at age 4, severely weakened her eyes and left pockmarks on her face. She was raised by an uncle, in tribal tradition.
After an encounter with Jesuit priests who had called on her uncle, she followed her mother’s example and adopted Christianity at age 20. She was ostracized by her family and tribe, however, so she traveled by canoe up the Hudson River, across lakes and rivers, and ended up at a Jesuit settlement in Kahnawake, near Montreal.
She told the priests that she wanted to start a new order of nuns, but they discouraged her. Paysse said his guess is in that era, “it just would not be favored.”
Instead, she took a private vow of chastity and inflicted penances on herself, among them pressing hot coals against her skin, putting thorns under her skin and standing outdoors in the snow, praying.
Paysse said chastity, as Kateri observed it, is “an example we want everyone to observe.”
The penances are something different.
Paysse said the church would not be advising Jake Finkbonner, now 12, the Bellingham, Wash., boy whose recovery from a flesh-eating disease was the final miracle that won Kateri her sainthood, to inflict such punishments. “Everything in moderation,” he said. “Certainly not the church, nor do I, endorse that sort of penance.”