Feast of St. Kateri celebrated near Bismarck

BISMARCK Members of North Dakota’s tribal nations and others gathered at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck July 13-14 to commemorate one of the Catholic church’s newest saints, St. Kateri Tekakwitha. The gathering marked what was possibly the largest organized celebration in the United States of St. Kateri’s first feast day as a saint.

“This celebration is an awesome gift to the diocese. It’s a way to come together and thank God for the gift of a saint,” said the Rev. John Paul Gartner, parochial vicar at the Church of St. Peter at Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. “Her people were inspired by her life, her devotion and her vision of God. We want to have that same vision. We’re coming here saying, ‘Kateri, help us, help me to see Jesus, help me to love him.’ “

Festivities began the evening of July 13 with a grand entry procession that included representatives from many of the state’s Catholic parishes that serve its five Native American reservations. Bishop John Folda, of the Fargo Diocese, and Bishop David Kagan, of the Bismarck Diocese, were honored with a star quilt gift from the tribes. Each bishop was wrapped in the quilt, which symbolizes being wrapped in the loving mantel of Jesus’ mother Mary, the “morning star.”

After the demonstration of different forms of native dance, a period of Eucharist adoration was held, which included a healing service and confessions. On July 14 Mark Thiel, an archivist of native Catholic collections at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wis., gave a presentation on St. Kateri’s life. Mass was also celebrated. The event ended with a round dance, or a dance that includes all native and non-native people as a celebration of life and harmony.

“She’s now universal,” the Rev. Roger Synek said of Kateri’s canonization, which took place last October. She is the first female Native American saint. “It’s good for us to see that we are a church, and as a church, it includes everybody,” he added. Synek serves four parishes on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Gartner would like to see graces from the celebration continue to inspire all Catholics, especially Native Americans. “St. Kateri is a doorway for them, a light in the darkness for them. If she could be here and speak to us, she would say, ‘Come to Mass. If you have sins, if you have burdens, come to the priests and there will be forgiveness for you.’ I hope this conference grows that desire in people’s hearts. Come to Mass!”