Tekakwitha Conference — A Condensed History

1656-1680 Kateri Tekakwitha (Mohawk-Algonquin, 1656-1680) lived a holy life in the Mohawk Nation of New York and later in Quebec, Canada. Soon after her death, devotions were initiated by local Indian and non-Indian Catholics who had known her. In 1676 she was baptized Catherine after St. Catherine of Siena, also a mystic. The next year, three Mohawk catechists from La Prairie (Quebec) visited the Mohawk Nation and took Kateri with them on their return home. In Canada, her feast day became the anniversary of her death (Apr. 17) whereas in the United States, it became the anniversary of her flight to Canada (Jul. 14).

1884 At the Third Plenary Council at Baltimore, the U.S. bishops signed the postulation brief to introduce the canonization causes to Rome for the Jesuit martyrs and St. Kateri

Tekakwitha. (Her cause was separated later)

1885 From Jan. to Apr. in Canada and the United States, 906 native people supported St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization cause by signing letters of endorsement. The signers included Charles F. Finkbonner (Lummi ancestor of Jake Finkbonner — see 2006 entry), the holy man Black Elk (Oglala; baptized 1904), and over 150 Lakota people from present-day North and South Dakota. These letters were added to the postulation brief, which the Vatican published with signatures in 1916.

1891-1900 Congregation of American Sisters: Under the leadership of Mother M. Catherine Sacred White Buffalo (Hunkpapa) and Rev. Francis M. Craft (Mohawk), several Hunkpapa women from the Standing Rock Reservation founded a religious community inspired by Blessed Kateri. … four of the American Sisters served as nurses in the U.S. Army in Cuba and reportedly they were the first American Indian women to serve officially in the Armed Forces   of the United States.

1931 Since the Congregation of Rites had separated St. Kateri’s cause from that of the Jesuit martyrs, her cause was reintroduced and a postulator was appointed.

1930s Native Catholics awareness of Kateri Tekakwitha grew through books, sodalities, and school plays.

1939 1st Annual Meeting, Fargo, N.D.: Oct. 4-5. Topics: Purpose of conference, native language usage, and Catholic schools. 27 clergy and three native lay Catholics from Minn., N.D., and S.D. convened at the invitation of Bishop Aloysius Muench. Pope Pius XII declared

Catherine (Kateri) Tekakwitha a “Heroic venerable Servant of God” the first of three steps

towards canonization (formal recognition) as a saint.


1946 7th Annual Meeting, S. D. Immaculate Conception Mission, Oct. 7-9.Topics: Catholic schools, native vocations, and Catholic life on reservations.

l 1948 9th Annual Meeting, Marty, S. D.: St. Paul Mission, Oct. 4-6.

Topics: Catholic life on reservations and movement of families to off-reservation towns.


1950 11th Annual Meeting, Stephan, S.D.: Oct. 10-11. Topics: Catholic schools 1956 17th Annual Meeting, Chamberlain, S.D.: St. Joseph’s School, Oct. 8-10. Theme: Social Order and the Indian. Guest speakers: Dr. Ben Reifel (Brule) and Robert Bennett, both of the

Bureau of Indian Affairs.


1957 18th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.: Mother Butler Center, Sept. 23-25. Topics: Catholic schools, youth and urban adjustment with reports from Los Angeles, Rapid City, Salt Lake City, and elsewhere. 38 attendees.

1964 25th Annual Meeting, Chamberlain, S.D.: St. Joseph’s School, Aug. 10-13.Topics: Catechetics and liturgy on the reservation and at reservation schools. 39 attendees from 14 states.

1965 26th Annual Meeting, Marvin, S.D.: Blue Cloud Abbey, Aug. 9-11. By 1965, native clergy such as Reverend John J. Brown, S.J. (Siksika [Blackfeet]), were members of the conference.

1967 28th Annual Meeting, St. Norbert, Manitoba, Canada: Villa Marie Retreat House, Aug. 7-9. Topics: mission of church, effective evangelization, liturgical adaptation with the sacred pipe and problems of alcoholism. This was the first meeting held in Canada and the first to involve Canadian scholars and missionaries.

1969 30th Annual Meeting, Marvin, S.D.: Blue Cloud Abbey, August 4-6. Theme: The New Indian Generation. Topics: “Red power” with discussions led by Br. Edward M. Red Owl, OSB. The

Tekakwitha Conference reorganized its governance with the position of Executive Secretary as the principal office. The conference’s first newsletter was distributed.

1971 32nd Annual Meeting, Pine Ridge, S.D.: Holy Rosary Mission, Aug. 9-11. Theme: Present-Day Thrust of Indian People for Self-Determination. Topics: Native diaconate and conversion of mission schools to lay control with Birgil Kills Straight as keynote speaker. Association of Native Religious and Clergy (ANRC) established, which is comprised of Native American Catholic clergy and religious from the U.S and Canada.

1977 38th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.: Aug. [8-11?]. Theme: Re-evaluation of purpose. Msgr. Paul A. Lenz, secretary of the Commission for Catholic Missions Among the Colored People and the Indians (and director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions), promised financial support for further development of the conference.

1978 39th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.: St. Martin Academy, Aug. 7-10. Theme: Toward a Better Understanding of the Present and Future Direction of the Catholic Church with Native

American Tribes. Highlights: Critical and provocative addresses provided by the principal speakers: Sr. M. Jose Hobday, SSSF (Seneca), Rupert Costo, editor of Wassaja, and R. Pierce Beaver, historian of Protestant Indian missions. 220 people attended.

1979 40th Annual Meeting, Yankton, S.D.: Mount Marty College, August 6-9. Highlights: Native American Catholics comprised 66 of the approximately 200 participants. They

challenged the clergy to listen to the concerns of Native Americans. (They) met with Msgr.Paul A. Lenz (Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions), Bishop Harold J. Dimmerling (Rapid City, S.D.), Bishop Thomas Murphy (Great Falls, Mont.), and Bishop William G. Connare (Greensburg, Pa., Chair, U.S. Catholic Conference Mission Committee) to articulate their concerns. The Tekakwitha Conference incorporated with a board of directors, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed an Episcopal Moderator, and it became listed in The Official Catholic Directory.

1989 50th Annual Meeting, Fargo, N. D.: North Dakota State University, Aug. 2-6.Theme: Walking the Sacred Circle with Jesus Christ. Also, 1989, a lay Native Catholic director was appointed as the first Native American director and the Conference is awarded the Pope Paul VI Award of the N.C.C.E. (National Council of Catholic Evangelization).

2002 64th Annual Meeting, Sioux Falls, S.D.: Augustana College, Jul. 30-Aug. 3. Theme: We are All Related through Kateri and Share our Culture and Faith on the Great Plains.

2006 On Mar. 4, by special request, Sister Kateri Mitchell went to Seattle to prepare for the annual meeting to be held in Seattle. She first visited Jacob Finkbonner at Seattle Children’s Hospital who was gravely ill with a strep A infection on his face. While at his bedside Sister Kateri and Jake’s mother prayed to Kateri Tekakwitha for her intercession while pressing a first-class relic to his body. While in surgery minutes later, hospital staff removed Jake’s bandages and discovered that he was disease free. Yet on the previous day when they applied the bandages, the upper half of his body was disease covered.

67th Annual Meeting, Burien (Seattle), Washington Pilgrimage to Lummi Reservation, Jul. 21, included an announcement on the investigation of Jacob Finkbonner’s miraculous healing.

2011 72nd Annual Meeting, Tucson, Ariz.: Tucson Convention Center, Jul. 20- 24. Theme: The Grand Canyon State is Enriched by Kateri Tekakwitha. On Dec. 17, Pope Benedict approved the 2006 instantaneous healing of Jacob Finkbonner as a first class miracle attributed to Kateri Tekakwitha’s intercession.

2012 73rd Annual Meeting, Albany, N.Y.: July 18-22. Theme: Walking in Her Footsteps in Kateri Country. Pilgrimage to Auriesville and Fonda shrines, July 21. Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri Tekakwitha as a saint in heaven on Oct. 21.

2013 74th Annual Meeting, El Paso, Texas: July 17-21. The Tekakwitha Conference purchased and relocated to a new National Center in Alexandria, Louisiana.

2017 78th Annual Meeting, Rapid City, S.D.

(From Marquette University Archives, Milwaukee, WI. Used with permission. Statue photo taken at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Rapid City)