When Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha enters the canon of Catholic saints Sunday, the pilgrims headed to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville may still be asleep.
Kateri will be the first Native American woman to become a saint at Sunday’s ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome.
“She’ll be a saint at about 3:30 or 4 in the morning,” said Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs museum director Beth Lynch.
A few hours later, the sun will rise over Auriesville, kicking off a day of thanksgiving.
Some of the most devoted will actually be in Rome for the ceremony, but for those who couldn’t make it, the shrine provides an alternative.
“The celebration will be larger in Rome,” Lynch said, “but this is the place Kateri took her first breath. It’s a very important place.”
Kateri was born in 1656 to a captive Catholic-Algonquin mother in a Mohawk village called Ossernenon. It’s now the site of the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.
Kateri became a Catholic early in life after being scarred by smallpox and devoted herself to the Eucharist until her death at just 24.
The young Indian woman was known to be extraordinarily devout and since the day of her passing, she’s been credited with miracles and generations of Catholics have prayed for her canonization.
After more than 300 years, they’ll have something to celebrate.
Lynch said there are a few special events set for the big day.
In the shrine museum, along with all the usual displays and information, documentary videos on Kateri’s life and the long journey to sainthood will run all day.
Artist Bob Renaud of Carthage will be in attendance with a series of original paintings featuring Kateri.
The gift shop, too, has stocked up on special rosaries, prayer cards and sweat shirts. They’re some of the first items to read “Saint Kateri” rather than simply “blessed” and gift shop manager Joanne Wiesner has been struggling to keep them on the shelves.
In a short phone interview Thursday, Wiesner said the shop was very busy, days before the large celebration.
“I’ve got a line of customers here,” she said.
But the largest part of the festivities will be the Kateri Mass held in the shrine Coliseum.
Similar Masses have gone on at the shrine for years, and on the surface Sunday’s won’t sound too much different.
Aside from a few specially chosen hymns, Lynch said it will be much the same.
“The Mass as a structure doesn’t change,” she said, but the mood of the ceremony will take a dramatic shift.
For decades, the Kateri Mass was conducted in petition for her sainthood. Sunday it will be in thanksgiving.
“It’s being in this place at this time,” Lynch said, “with everyone around.”
Shrine staff have no way of predicting how many people will come out for the celebration, but several things suggest a large turnout.
Every parking space that could accommodate a bus has been reserved by various organizations planning to attend.
In preparation, the shrine brought in an extra three dozen volunteers to direct traffic, run the gift shop and generally keep things going.
The Coliseum holds 6,500 people. The Mass of thanksgiving may not fill it, but pilgrims can expect a large and happy event.
For more information, visit the shrine website at www.martyrshrine.org.