Native Daughters

Making Saints in a Divided Church

Last October the Roman Catholic Church elevated to sainthood two women of North America: Mother Marianne Cope, the German-American nun who spent her life providing solace to the lepers of Molokai, and Kateri Tekakwitha, the seventeenth-century convert known to devotees as the “Lily of the Mohawks.” As one of eighty thousand pilgrims who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the celebration, I was able to see how canonization affirms the gospel truth, “He who humbles himself shall be exalted”—or in this case, as with the majority of American saints, she who humbles herself....

The process of getting there, however, can be tortuous—as in the case of Tekakwitha, whose elevation culminates an effort launched over a century ago. It began at Baltimore’s Third Plenary Council in 1884, when U.S. bishops drafted a petition asking Pope Leo XIII to open Tekakwitha’s cause for canonization, the first step in that direction on behalf of any person...

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About the Author

Kathleen Sprows Cummings is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of History, and serves as the William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism.