SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Sister Kateri Mitchell was born and raised on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation along the St. Lawrence River. She grew up hearing stories about Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th-century Mohawk woman who will be declared a saint in the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday.
She has long admired Tekakwitha for her steadfast faith and her ability to bridge Native American spirituality with Catholic traditions. In 1961, Mitchell joined the Sisters of St. Anne, and since 1998 she has served as executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference in Great Falls, Mont., a group that has spread Tekakwitha’s story and prayed for her canonization since 1939.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” she said of the canonization at the Vatican. “It’s a great validation.”
This is a love story.
An unlikely love story, perhaps, but a true love story just the same.
Not 10 minutes after meeting her for the first time in the shadow of a 33-foot-tall metallic statue of the Virgin Mary at a convent in the Rust Belt suburbs of Chicago’s south side, Sister Annunziata told me she loved me.
Reaching out an elegant, wizened hand from her wheelchair to touch my cheek, she first asked me whether I was Irish and then said, “You have the face of an angel.”
I was a goner.
Annunziata, who was 83 at the time, had me completely from that moment forward — utterly devoted to her for the rest of her life. I was Annunziata’s and she was mine — and that was that. She became the Maude to my Harold, showing me how to love without limits.
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The Mother of God as friend had never occurred to me. Not in the human sense, at least.
Surely Mary is a spiritual companion and, in that sense, “friend,” but when she walked among us, Mary was and had friends.
She also had a soul sister — her older cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. When Mary realized the truth of her pregnancy, she “made haste” to the welcoming, non-judgmental, grace-filled friendship of her loving (and also pregnant) cousin’s arms.
Perhaps because I’m a new mother myself, as we enter this Advent season, I find myself looking at Mary the woman — the girl, really — with new eyes.