Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Story and photos by Candace Rojo

The Saint Ignatius Mission, located on the Flathead Reservation within San Ignatius, Montana, was originally built by Jesuit missionaries who hoped to convert local tribes from tribal religions to Christianity. The mission has always had a special tie with native culture and has been influenced by the native way of life. This mission, unlike many other missions in the United States, incorporated the native culture into the modern day church in creative and unorthodox ways.

The mission highlights its location and special influences through the paintings it holds on its back walls. Two life-sized, oil canvases, painted in 1960 by Sam and Olive Wimprud, show the Native American interpretation of Mary and the baby Jesus, and the famous image of Jesus with the Sacred Heart.

Another way it incorporates native culture is through its tabernacle, which is both unusual and beautiful. The tabernacle is a Native American teepee that holds Jesus during times that the Holy Eucharist is not being used.

The mission parish also incorporates the native culture through a statue that both highlights the ambitions of the missionaries and gives a Native American saint that other tribes and converts could look up to.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American from Aurisville, NY, was a Catholic convert from the Algonquin tribe who went against her family’s beliefs, and desires, and by becoming Catholic when she was 19 years old. She was treated as a slave both in the white world and her tribe, and because she would not work on Sundays she was starved. She was always in immediate peril wherever she went because of her conversion. On the advice of a trusted priest, she ran away from her home and walked 200 miles to a Christian Indian Village in Sault St. Louis, near Montreal.