Locals share in celebration of new saint, Kateri Tekakwitha
FONDA, New York — Far from his parish in the Smoky Mountains, Father Shawn O'Neal celebrated the canonization of the first Native American saint at her namesake shrine in Fonda, N.Y.
Father O'Neal is the pastor of St. Joseph Church in Bryson City and Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Cherokee. Venturing as an individual pilgrim, Father O'Neal said he was excited for this opportunity to witness the canonization of Blessed Kateri, as many of his Native American parishioners hold special devotion to her.
Though Father O'Neal has no Native American ancestry himself, he works closely with many who do. He has attended three National Tekakwitha Conferences, which work to promote recognition and devotion to the Mohawk/Iroquois woman. At the conferences, he saw how much time, faith and patience the advocates had in working for her canonization.
Father O'Neal has a special devotion to Blessed Kateri and has promoted her path to sainthood himself.
"I have always been an advocate and believer in her, but it is more inspiring to me to see how this has impacted the Native American community. It is truly inspiring and hopeful to see how one woman can bring together a nation of people regardless of their religious background. It is a true testament to the universality of the Church," he said.
Father O'Neal said he recognizes the significance of this canonization to the Native American community and found it beautiful that the canonization was just a few days after the feast of the Eight North American Martyrs, whose shrine is less than 10 minutes away from Blessed Kateri's.
"These eight men gave their lives for the religious mission and education of the Native Americans and basically set the stage for Kateri's conversion," he said.
Once in New York, Father concelebrated at the Mass of Thanksgiving at the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine built in 1782 and dedicated in 1938.
"I thank God that I was able to join this great celebration not only as a pastor on the Cherokee Reservation, but also as a pilgrim and someone who is blessed by the support of holy people and t the prayers of great people who have gone before me," he said.
Father O'Neal was not the only one from his parish to travel for the canonization. Maxine Studer has been a longtime parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a member of the National Tekakwitha Conference since 1993. She and her daughter Mary Joleen flew to Rome for the momentous day last weekend. Studer's mother was Cherokee and she has had a strong faith in Blessed Kateri since she was a young girl.
When the canonization was announced in December 2011, Studer recalled that she was happy about the news, but it did not occur to her to go. A few days later, her daughter called from Albuquerque, N.M., and said, "Mom, we are going!"
As it was to be their first time in Rome, both said they were excited and anxious for the trip.
"I don't know what to expect, but I just want to get there and enjoy the celebration," Studer said.
— Megan Barnes, intern
Pictured: Father Mark Steed, OFM celebrates Mass at the shrine named for Blessed Kateri in New York. Pictured provided by Father Shawn O'Neal.
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy