An online fundraiser is underway to help supporters of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha acquire a rare relic and return it to the Roman Catholic Church.
Organizers are hoping to buy a historic plated-silver box containing a piece of one of the saint’s bones that was previously in a religious institution in Quebec but is now in private hands.
Saint Kateri was born in the 17th century in what is now the town of Glen and grew up in what is now Fonda, and there are two shrines to her in Montgomery County.
As of late Sunday, a GoFundMe.com campaign called “Rescue Saint Kateri Reliquary” had raised $2,814 toward the goal of $3,675 to buy the reliquary.
The new owner of the reliquary is willing to sell it at no profit, fundraiser organizers said, if it will be returned to religious use. The fundraising campaign is under the auspices of the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center of Wading River, Long Island, which would be the purchaser.
The 4-inch bone fragment is believed to be the only St. Kateri relic of its kind. It went up for auction recently in Montreal, and was purchased by someone who recognized its significance but now wishes to remain anonymous.
A reliquary is a container holding a relic of a saint — in this case, a four-inch piece of what is believed to be a forearm bone.
Church law forbids buying and selling holy relics, but does not prohibit the purchase of reliquaries, the boxes that contain relics, if the reliquary will be protected or used for religious purposes.
Documents published on the GoFundMe.com page appear to provide support for the relic’s authenticity. They include a handwritten statement by the archbishop of Montreal written in 1893, identifying it as genuine.
Kateri was declared a saint in 2012 by Pope Benedict, following a lengthy process in which modern miracles were attributed to her. Upon her death, it is said her scars disappeared, and for centuries she was considered a patroness of Montreal and of native peoples. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980.
Those who want to purchase the reliquary hope it would then be stored in a place accessible to those who venerate Kateri, the only native North American saint.
Bill Jacobs, president of the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.
Local sites associated with the saint include the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville.
If the fundraising is successful, the conservation center says it will buy the reliquary and present it to the church, in hopes it would be displayed at the Auriesville shrine or some church or holy site nearby.
Born in 1656 near Auriesville, St. Kateri converted to Catholicism at the behest of Jesuit missionaries at the age of 19, after having survived an episode of smallpox that disfigured her. She died at the age of 24 in a Jesuit mission settlement near Montreal.
Saint Kateri is considered the patroness of people who love nature and work to protect human and natural ecology.
According to an account published online by EWTN, the Global Catholic Network, the current holder of the reliquary came across it when a religious order moved away and a number of their possessions were auctioned off as a collection.
The buyer is willing to sell the reliquary for the price paid at the auction.
The possible acquisition of the relic comes at a time of transition for the religious shrine located at St. Kateri’s birthplace, on a hilltop overlooking the Mohawk River just east of Fultonville.
The Society of Jesus, which owns and has operated the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, is in talks with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany to potentially hand over ownership of the 130-year-old shrine to the church.
The operator of the site could be a newly formed private group, “Friends of the Shrine for Our Lady of Martyrs,” which says it has plans to restore and expand the shrine.
In addition to being the birthplace of St. Kateri, the shrine is the burial place of three martyred Jesuit saints — of which there are only eight in the world.
Last summer, it was announced that the Jesuit community at the shrine, which had consisted of three on-site priests, would leave at the end of 2015, as part of a consolidation by the order.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.