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‘Honoring the gifts we’ve received’

About 70 Catholics gathered far up the North Shore of Lake Superior April 24-26 to honor St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first American Indian saint to be canonized.

Some traveled to Grand Portage from as far away as Ohio and South Dakota for a regional Mini- Tekakwitha Conference under the theme “Honoring the Gifts We’ve Received.”


Lisa Yankton, from the Twin Cities, shares some thoughts on St. Kateri Tekakwitha at the end of Bishop Paul Sirba’s talk April 25 in Grand Portage. She was one of about 70 Catholics who had come to the regional Mini-Tekakwitha Conference. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, who was there to celebrate Mass and give one of the event’s two main talks on Saturday, noted in his homily at Holy Rosary Church that among those attending were artists and teachers, moms and grandmothers and students. Speaking of the New Evangelization, he said it is first and foremost to those near us, especially those who have left the church.

“We get to be bridges, hopefully, to reach out to them,” he said.

Father Seamus Walsh, the parish’s pastor, noted that the church is the oldest active log church in Minnesota and the location of a Catholic presence since the 1700s, when Jesuit missionaries accompanied the Voyageurs. He said Ven. Frederick Baraga had come “right in this spot” in 1838 and baptized eight people.

The Mass included prayers and hymns in Ojibwe as well as English.

Honoring the Gifts We’ve Received

Bishop Sirba’s hour-long address, given at the nearby community center in Grand Portage, focused on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and how St. Kateri exemplified them. He called the gifts of the Spirit “remedies, if you will, that strengthen the powers of our soul,” that are given in baptism and strengthened in the sacrament of confirmation.

Taking them one by one, he explained the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord, pausing at the end of each to describe characteristics of the life of St. Kateri that showed them in action.

For instance, he introduced the gift of counsel by noting how no one has all the answers and so we must rely on other people and “listen to the wisdom of our elders.” As it relates to eternal salvation, God wills people to come together with their different gifts, he said.

“God wills that each receives what he needs from others.”

He said in St. Kateri’s life, she sought the advice of the elders and also sought out people in deep relationship with Jesus. “That’s the gift of counsel,” he said.

The gift of fortitude (or courage) he associated with the martyrs in Kenya, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and elsewhere “affected by the millions” and the supernatural courage many of them show in the face of persecution and death. St. Kateri faced many challenges, too, he said, including the threat of death, and had to leave her own country.

“She had strength and courage and boldness,” he said.

The gift of knowledge, Bishop Sirba said, is like a “supernatural instinct” for the truths of the faith, shown in St. Kateri despite her having little formal training.

Of ‘grandfathers’ and ‘rascals’

Bishop Sirba’s talk and the following talk by Father Tom Foster, a priest of the Duluth Diocese who is part Ojibwe, were meant to complement each other, with Father Foster focusing on seven teachings of the Ojibwe and how they were apparent in St. Kateri’s life.

Those seven teachings — what he called “seven grandfathers,” with “seven rascals” as their opposites — are honesty, humility, truth, wisdom, respect, bravery and love.

He said fear is often at the heart of the “seven rascals,” while love is at the heart of the “seven grandfathers.”

Father Foster said part of honesty is seeing the good God has put in each person, while humility poses the question, “Are we open to the mystery that is around us?”

“With humility, it also calls us to be willing to walk with others,” he said, a trait seen in St. Kateri’s life. By doing so, we can help others have hope, something Father Foster said comes up in his ministry as a hospital chaplain.

Speaking of respect, he said it includes respecting others and their beliefs and ourselves, but it goes beyond that. “We are called to grow in respect of other living beings,” he said, being good stewards.

A good response

Those in attendance said the event was well organized and the setting beautiful.

Hans Stockstead, a resident of the area, said a funeral had come up, so he was late and missed both Mass and the bishop’s talk, but he was looking forward to the afternoon and has a strong belief in the communion of saints, “that they’re all alive today in heaven, that they can see us,” he said.

Maureen Headbird came a bit further. She’s a trustee at Gichitwaa Kateri Catholic Church in Minneapolis and tries to attend both the regional Mini-Tekakwitha Conferences and the national ones. She said many of those in attendance hadn’t been to Grand Portage before, and there was a nice turnout.

“I’m just really impressed with the whole place,” she said.

She was also impressed that Bishop Sirba had traveled to speak to them.

Preserving Ojibwe language

Rick Gresczyk, formerly of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis, now teaches at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, and he translated some of the hymns that were sung at the Mass. He said that’s a difficult task, because the Ojibwe language is very descriptive and uses many syllables. For instance one way to say “joy” in Ojibwe is “minawaanigoziwin,” he said.

Gresczyk said it is important for the church to try to help revitalize the language before it’s lost, especially since at some points in history the church went along with practices meant to eradicate it.

Gresczyk said St. Kateri’s canonization should draw attention to other potential saints. “There are other Native men and women who are being considered for canonization,” he said, citing Black Elk as one of the most well-known.

Sister Marie Rose Messingschlager, CDP, diocesan director of Indian ministry, emceed the event. She said that there were both Natives and non- Natives in attendance, including people from the White Earth Reservation, Fond du Lac, Deer River and Duluth.

— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross