After waiting and praying for decades, two local shrines finally will celebrate the sainthood of Kateri Tekakwitha, who will be canonized in Rome, Italy, on Oct. 21.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville will have a Mass of Thanksgiving that day in the coliseum for Kateri, a Mohawk Indian who was born in 1656 in what is now Fonda.
Earlier in the day, the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, which is devoted to Kateri, will have a Mass and procession.
The National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, above, will have a Mass and procession to celebrate the canonization of the Blessed Kateri.
The Leader-Herald/Arthur Cleveland
"Everybody is overjoyed," said Beth Lynch, museum manager and event coordinator at the Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine.
"Kateri has a very strong following," Lynch said. "She has been answering prayers for years."
Brother James Amrhein, associate director at the National Kateri Shrine, said the pilgrims who have visited the shrine and the shrine's caretakers have been delighted about the upcoming canonization.
He said the canonization has been a long time coming, and he's expecting a large crowd at the Fonda shrine.
Mohawk Supervisor Greg Rajkowski said he expects a large number of people to head to the shrine this month.
"When it gets closer to the 21st, more people will be visiting Fonda," he said.
In February, Pope Benedict XVI announced Kateri would be the first Native American ever accepted as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The announcement came decades after the church had beatified Kateri. Beatification is a step toward sainthood.
According to the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda, Kateri lost both her parents and much of her own eyesight to smallpox when she was 4 years old.
Kateri was given the name Tekakwitha, which means "she who bumps into things," and was adopted by her uncle.
Kateri was a convert to Christianity and was ostracized from her tribe for it. She eventually escaped to Quebec, where she died at the age of 24.
After her death, witnesses reported the pock marks from smallpox that had covered her face vanished.
Lynch said many steps are required for someone to become a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.
Among those steps is proof of a miracle that would require investigation by Catholic officials.
Supporters of Kateri's sainthood had submitted what they considered to be evidence of Kateri's sainthood, but it wasn't until 2006 that a miracle was officially recognized by the church.
That year, a 6-year-old boy cut his lip during a basketball game in Washington state. The boy's face swelled and he developed a high fever, according to the Catholic Church.
A flesh-eating bacteria began attacking his face, and doctors said he would die. The family's priest asked his congregation to pray to Kateri on the child's behalf. The boy chose Kateri because of her own facial scarring, and because the boy was half-Native American, the Catholic Church said.
A representative of the Society of Blessed Kateri went to the hospital and placed a pendant depicting Kateri on the boy's pillow. By the next day, the infection stopped progressing and the boy recovered, according to the Catholic Church.
Investigators from the Vatican researched the incident for three years, and in February, Benedict approved it as a miracle attributed to Kateri's intervention.
Lynch said there is a lot of excitement in the area about the canonization.
To celebrate the canonization on Oct. 21, the Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine will hold a 2 p.m. Catholic Mass at the coliseum on the shrines grounds.
There will be an art exhibit by artist Bob Renaud, who has several pieces in the Vatican's collection.
The National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda will hold a Mass at 10 a.m. Oct. 21. There also will be a display of relics during a procession.