“What are we called now?” Principal Jennifer Chatain asked the sanctuary full of children.
“Saint Kateri!” they yelled back in unison.
“How many people watched it yesterday in their classroom and saw her become a saint?” she asked.
Just about every one of the little hands shot up.
The entire student body of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School gathered for a Mass at their Union Street church Tuesday morning to celebrate the canonization of their namesake and the change of their school’s name from “Blessed Kateri” to “St. Kateri.”
The Catholic school and the church that runs it were both known as St. Helen’s until July 1, when the church merged with Our Lady of Fatima on Rosa Road. The newly formed parish was named after Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American woman born more than three centuries ago in what is now Montgomery County. On Sunday, she became the first female Native American saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Even though her family didn’t want her to become Christian, she did, and went out in the forest and prayed to God,” explained fifth-grader Jamaica Seeley.
The fifth-grade class — the highest grade at the school — led Tuesday’s Mass, and students were knowledgeable about the new saint.
“She had to leave her family and go somewhere else and study God and tell other people about God,” fifth-grader Jacob Angelides explained, noting he thought that would be a scary thing to do.
During the Mass, the Rev. Michael Taylor illustrated all of the blessings the children have in their lives — food to eat, a roof over their heads, the ability to read and money to spend. He urged the children to be grateful for those things.
“If we have a grateful heart, then we start to show Christ’s love to others. … That’s what St. Kateri did. St. Kateri had a rough life, didn’t she? She got sick when she was young, she had trouble seeing. When she became Catholic, a lot of people didn’t want to spend time with her anymore. If anyone would have a reason to be upset or angry, St. Kateri would probably have a reason, yes?” he asked the congregation of kids, who fidgeted in their seats but still appeared attentive to his message.
He told the children Kateri wasn’t angry with her lot in life because she knew how much God loved her and she wanted to show that love to others. Taylor urged the students to find ways to do the same.
The 330 students who attend the school are excited it’s named after a Native American woman who is held in such high esteem by the Roman Catholic Church, said the Rev. Bob Longobucco, the church’s pastor.
“They feel close to her. She was close to their age when she became Christian and was making those hard decisions. They think about, ‘How would it be if I lost my family?’ And they think about how strong she was,” he explained.
In the school’s lobby is a mural that’s a tribute to both Kateri and the students. Last spring, each child drew a self-portrait that was transferred onto a tile. The ceramic squares were then pasted like a patchwork quilt on the wall, along with facts about Kateri.
There’s also a nearly life-size painting of the new saint in the school’s library. Former student Kendall Benac, who was in fourth grade at the time, drew the portrait freehand and painted it on a bright yellow wall in the library over the summer.
“I think it’s going to be on the parish calendar next year because it’s so beautiful,” Chatain said.
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