Fleur-de-la-Prairie   -   Prairie Flower
Wahwahsekona
The Algonquin Mother of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

by
Norm Léveillée


Version française

Oil painting in Main Chapel, St. Peter Mission, Fonda NY
Artist unknown*

Part Two - Tekakwitha at La Prairie
Translation of
La Vie Gracieuse de Catherine Tekakwitha
by Juliette Lavergne

 

Chapter I - Aigle's dream

Aigle listened for a long time the soft sound of the rowers brushing across the calm Mohawk. When he no longer heard anything, he suddently realized that he was all alone in this corner of the land where he had just sacrificed, through an incomprehensible devotion, the only happiness, the unique love of his life.

Closing his eyes, he reviewed in his mind the delicate face of Tekakwitha, the young girl with the candidly confident look... she who allowed him to live by following his dream of her, in spite of all.

But, thinking about the danger which could befall the fugitive and her protectors if one were to guess his own complicity in Tekakwitha's escape, he straightened up with an energetic gesture, listened attentively once more, then he headed into the woods with incredible lightness and and liveliness.

It was time. The darkness was less profound. The moon, from time to time, would show its white face between the clouds. He needed, at all cost, to return without being seen.

The Great Spirit, without a doubt, watched over the benefactor of the little Kateri, because, at dawn, the prodigious runner was peacefully working in his longhouse preparing animal pelts for a profitable trade, like he always did upon his return from his usual and happy hunting expeditions.

Despite his apparent carefree attitude, the chief was not without worry. What will happen when Tekakwitha's uncle finds out about her departure? What state of mind will Renard have, this untiring pretendor of the young girl?

Aigle felt that it was wise to quiet his impatient curiosity.

He continued therefore to work and during his work he pursued his melancolic dream... Two resolutions were in his mind. He found his complete calmness and his indomitable energy. Therefore, one day, he would go meet the young Iroquois. He would follow her everywhere she wanted to go... He would even listen, in order to please her, the words of the Black Robe... On the other hand, Aigle's other resolution was terrible. The chief promised himself that he would soon save Tekakwitha from her persecutor, Renard, while also getting rid of at the same time his most dangerous and personal enemy.

Now, Aigle was smiling, happy and confident in the future....

 

Chapter II A Family Unpleasantly Surprised

When the aunts and the other inhabitants of the longhouse of Tekakwitha awoke, they became aware simply of the absence of the young girl. No one thought of being upset.

Did she not go every day, at times even before sunrise, to pray for a long time either at the chapel or at the forest entrance before a wooden cross which she had raised near the pretty spring which even today still carries her name!

Meanwhile, hours passed without the hardworking child returning for her daily chores.

They were shocked first of all. Then they became worried. Then finally, foreseeing the possibility of a new escape of the "indomitable Algonquin", there burst forth a general furor. One of the aunts hurried to warn Renard. The other went immediately to Aigle.

Friends, family and neighbors gathered together to talk about the extraordinary event of the day. The men followed, asking what caused the excitement of their women and their girls in this manner. It was quite a fuss! Renard followed one of the aunts in the longhouse of the Great Chief. He was beside himself with anger, hate and humiliation. He was surprised to see Aigle coming in quietly behind the other aunt and to join in the gathering of family and neighbors without showing the least emotion. He stared long and hard at this man whom he hated the most. A terrible thought crossed his mind... What if Aigle had arranged the escape of Tekakwitha for her to go away, and later, to marry her! Did he not find him near the chapel one day, exchanging words with Kateri?

And meanwhile --- there was nothing to understand! --- Aigle had one day brought the fugitive Iroquois back home... Therefore, he wasn't looking to marry her... Then... One last solution came to the distressed soul of the young Indian : Aigle could have facilitated the escape of his fiancée with the single intent of humiliating him well.

I warned my absent brother, cried one of the aunts.

This complicated the situation and greatly annoyed Aigle. In effect, the quicktempered old man could very well be far enough away in pursuit of the fugitives... He was still remarkably agile, cunning and an expert marksman. He had an excellent rifle, always ready, thanks to his relationship with the Dutch merchants with whom he often traded.

Despite his worry, Aigle gravely pronounced:

We must find the daughter of the Great Chief. Where is Cendre-Chaude (Hot Ashes)?
He left two days ago with his companions, only to go to the neighboring village; I saw him, assured a woman of good faith.

The Great Spirit was surely watching over Tekakwitha.

She is alone therefore, said Aigle. She can't be far. She will return! But one must watch her more carefully this time!

Renard shruged his shoulders and, readjusting his belt of weapens and scalps, he left without a word.

 

Chapter III During This Time

While, as a vigilant and melancholic sentinel, Aigle watched over the Mohawk woman to whom he had just confided everything that was most dear to him in this world, the canoe carrying the three fugitives glided on the river with greater speed. The two Indians were fit and tireless. Tekakwitha snuggled in the bottom of the light barque, and was praying with peaceful fervor. She was afraid of nothing. It seemed that she was obeying the call of the Great Spirit. She knew that He took care of those who confided in his goodness. The travellers were now far from Kahnawaké. Day was breaking through a rush of clouds.

The wind was loudly sweeping across them. The dawn of the day was beautiful and cold. The temperature was going to be favorable for a long walk in the forest. For it was necessary to disembark, rest first of all and then take nourishment, then to abandon the trail here in order to be able, in case of alarm, to disperse in the thick and huge forest. At all cost, it was necessary to cut short the length of the trip and to diminish as much as possible the danger of falling into the hands of the pursuers. They knew that there would be some for a time.

The travellers agreed to separate: thus Pied-Léger (Lightfoot) would go alone in the canoe to find food at the Dutch trading post set up not far from there. They did not know where Tekakwitha's uncle was at this moment!

The young Iroquois would hide for hours in the woods, which were very dense at this location. The Huron would watch over the surrounding area, all the while appearing to be hunting for forest game...

Now it happened that the uncle of Kateri, having rushed home upon learning the flight of his niece, after having searched the surrounding area with his group, had resolved to come onto the route to La Prairie, believing that Tekakwitha could have been tempted to flee in this direction. He inquired at the Dutch trading post. He was assured that no one had seen the three travellers. This diverted the suspicions of the old man toward an other possible trail. On the way, he met Pied-Léger, whom he did not recognize and who was coming precisely to get provisions. This one did recognize the Great Chief. He feigned indifference for the coming and going of the uncle around him. He disembarked quietly from the canoe, as a man in no hurry, amused himself by talking with the merchants as if he knew them well... and the ruse worked... The uncle, convinced, continued his course on the river.

Only, worried at not seeing Pied-Léger returning and fearing for his companion, the Huron retraced his steps. He had just recommended to Tekakwitha that she remain hidden among the trees and underbrush and that he was preparing to go search for Pied-Léger when he spotted the tall silhouette of the Great Chief. He carefully put his rifle to his shoulder, fired, and shot a bird, but it also was a signal... The Huron hurried through the woods, picked up the bird and came back happily toward the uncle, which he met and greeted with perfect deference, one being old, the other young... ---Then, lighting his long pipe, he arranged certain things in order as if he were preparing to return hom.

This time, the uncle was completely discouraged. Tekakwitha was not here. A bit fatigued, admitting a bit that his limbs could no longer compete in the journey with those younger than he, he turned back defintely toward Kahnawaké.

After careful hesitations, the fugitives dared to reunite again.

They undertook again, while offering to Heaven fervent thanksgiving, their journey toward La Prairie.

Step by step, they walked, portaged, rejoining from time to time, the water route.

It is in this way that, from the banks of the singing Mohawk, they arrived at the Saint Lawrence, majestic and rumbling. In the distance, the elegant outline of Mont-Royal could be seen dominating Ville-Marie. The Saint Francis-Xavier mission of La Prairie spread out gracefully its beautiful chapel, its longhouses, its well cultivated fields.

The "Sault" (i.e. "the rapids") rumbled nearby. On the riverbank, attracted by a call from the Huron, a group waited, friendly and happily eager, the arrival of the fugitives.

 

Chapter IV Accepted As A Sister

When Tekakwitha jumped joyously on the laurentian riverbank, she was affectionately hugged by the arms of a young woman whom she would soon consider as a sister; it was the wife of Pied-Léger (Lightfoot); her name was Étoile-du-Matin (Morningstar). She was related to Cerf-Agile, Catherine's father. After her, another woman lavished on our heroine the expression of the most sincere sympathy. A profound emotion seemed to affect this Indian of the mission when she was brought up to date on the various events of the life of the new arrival. She then told the young Iroquois that she was called Anastasia and she had known very well and dearly loved Wahwahsekona or Fleur-de-la-Prairie. Until the present moment, she was not aware of the providential destiny of "the Algonquin". She thought that she had been massacred during the destruction of their village by a party of Mohawk warriors.

Tekakwitha never ceased thanking the Great Spirit for having led her footsteps among people so Christian, so accepting and so good. She asked a thousand questions of the good Anastasia regarding her dear mother all the while so happy and so sadly distressed. She had learned to love more when she learned how she had merited to keep her Christian faith pure and and fervent in the midst of fanatic and cruel pagans.

In return, Tekakwitha was please to praise the beautiful behavior of the young conquering chief, her father, Cerf-Agile (Swift Stag), valorous Iroquois brought to Christianity by the example of the lovable Wahwahsekona and baptized by her at the supreme hour...

Other Indians of the mission had joined the talking group on the riverbank. On all these faces, more or less rough, she could read a truly sincere liking. She believed that she was almost in paradise. The poor child had suffered much up to the present, that she found it hard to believe that these terrible events had finally ended.

She was brought to the missionary, Father Cholenec. With humble graciousness, Catherine presented to him a letter which had been given to her by Father de Lamberville, of Kahnawaké --- from the Mohawk village --- for the missionary of La Prairie.

Here is what this letter said, and of which the messenger was not aware what one could say about her:

Catherine --- or Kateri --- Tekakwitha will live at the Sault. Please, I beg of you, take charge of her direction. You will soon learn the treasure that we have sent to you. Watch over well then. Into your hands will therefore gain the glory of God and the salvation of a soul who is most assurely dear to Him..

The two travel companions of the young girl were hurrying, without her knowing, to bring the Father up to date on her life so virtuous and so painfully tourmented among her own Mohawk people.

Right away, the missionary understood that God had confided to him a precious soul, a "treasure" for the dawning mission.

He resolved to follow her closely, as much to help her to become perfect as well as to edify himself near such moral beauty.

A place was happily made for the newcomer in the longhouse of Étoile-du-Matin (Morningstar), Pied-Léger (Lightfoot), Anastasie (Anastasia) and theHuron's family, while many other mission people had invited Tekakwitha to live with them.

She thanked all these brave people whose cordiality had touched her deeply. But she humbly confided to "her family" of the mission the care of keeping her and helping her to live only for the Great Spirit.

 

Chapter V The History Of The La Prairie Mission

While the young girl introduced so warmly by the Huron and Pied-Léger was being welcomed, perhaps we could stop here for a few moments and examine the touching story of the Saint Francis-Xavier mssion. There are many beautiful things contained therein. It is really a true page of "golden legend". The characters are really friendly and nice.

Heroic missionaries and Indian converts, all were admirabll able to make their white brothers saintly jealous, even though very fervent at that time, from Ville-Marie, the little city of the Virgin, graciously placed between the river and the beautiful mountain of Mont-Royal. This is how the mission of which we speak got its beginning, and let us notice right away that it was the first Iroquois mission in the land of New France.

La Prairie got its name from the beauty and the abundance of products of the land. As many locations, for the same reason, carried this same name, let us add, to this little village which is of interest to us, the name of Magdeleine. A little later, one of the missionairies while consecrating the mission to Saint Francis-Xavier, la Prairie was designated in one way then in another, but no one mistook it. They knew that it was a question of this little corner of the earth where people lived like angels and where everyone served the Great Spirit with full heart.

For practical reasons, the village little by little moved their longhouses back. The village inhabitants, either because they admired the spirited splendor of the rapids or saults, or still remembering the former country of many among these, were pleased to call it "Kahnawaké", which means in the Iroquois language "at the rapids". Today, it is rather called : "Caughnawaga".

And here is finally the story of the Magdeleine.

There was in a certain Iroquois village called Onneyout a warrior of this nation who married, for her extraordinary qualities, beauty, virtue, lively intelligence, a woman of the Erie nation, whom he had brought as a captive following a sad combat for the enemy nation.

At the time of which we are speaking, she was an interpreter for the missionary, Father Bryas. This priest prepared her, as a reward for her services, to soon receive baptism. Her name was Ganneaktena. Her husband became very ill and tried to get cured by asking the sorcerers of the tribe, despite the supplications of his pious companion.

However, not getting any relief, he resolved to follow the advice of Ganneaktena, and went to Ville-Marie accompanied by her and a group of relatives.

The admirable religious nurses at Hôtel-Dieu were consulted. They were attentive to cure the body and soul of the patient, and such that he was cured and he prepared himself also to become a fervent baptized christian, and was imitated in this regard by the rest of his travelling companions.

The founding missionary of the first Iroquois mission was Father Raffeix (S.J.). It was still, at the time of our heros' trip, the moment of beautiful yet hardly feasible dreams. The big obstacle, in effect, and which appeared a bit difficult to conquer, was the attachment of the Iroquois to their land, to their surroundings.

On the other hand, what was considered very advantageous near Ville-Marie, was a solid establishment of these Indians, converts and devoted friends of the French, in case of attacks and of wars with the still pagan Iroquois.

Father Raffeix did not become discouraged. He had hope in Providence.

He was on a trip to Ville-Marie when Ganneaktena, her husband Tonsahoten and their companions arrived there also. Knowing very well the language and the morals of the Iroquois, the Priest was chosen to take care of our interesting travellers.

These were delighted to find in this Black Robe a true friend, understanding them, taking care of them with pleasure and devotion. So much so, there were not talking about returning home. Their stay in Ville-Marie was very pleasing to them; they wanted also and especially to take advantage of being baptized. The Priest therefore instructed them.

Meanwhile, Tonsahoten had recovered vigor and health.

Little by little, the missionary made them aware of this project: to have, very near Ville-Marie, in a pleasant location, with rich soil, with him, the Father Priest next to his children, a mission essentially Iroquois, whose founding would be confided to them, these converts of tomorrow who appear to be so happy in their new environment. He vowed frankly that it would be they who would contribute to attract and keep converts in a center like this one.

The Priest was admirably and generously understood. Our Iroquois accepted this.

The mission, in its cheerful framework, received the people for whom it was waiting.

In the spring of 1668, Father Raffeix had to go to Québec for a time. He offered his neophytes to accompany him and they accepted eagerly.

At Notre-Dame de Foy, near Québec, there was a flourishing Huron mission. Father Raffeix brought his children there in order to show them how their Indian colleagues could live joyously and saintly as Christians. These Indian colleagues gave a feast for their hosts. The missionary of the place, Father Chaumont, showed them great kindness.

The travellers were therefore enchanted because of this warm welcome. But what really heightened their recognition and their joy was being baptized by Monsignor (Bishop) Laval himself, who lavished on them the expression of his paternal concern.

Returning to la Prairie, they all settled definitely: Tonsahoten, Ganneaktena and twelve other converts. This was the year 1668.

The Priest, in his dreams as an apostle, already could see the rich harvest of the future. But God shielded from his eyes the marvelous lily who would soon flower among the sheafs and whose brilliant and mystical beauty would pull at and dazzle our looks across the centuries of heroism and of history.

Ganneaktena was a model of virtue and zeal in the budding mission. She died a saint. Tonsahoten never stopped, himself, from preaching with words and examples to his colleagues of Saint Francis-Xavier.

Little by little other Iroquois and even Indians from different native nations or tribes also came to join themselves around Father Raffeix.

Here, therefore, is the ardent devotion from which Cendre-Chaude, Pied-Léger, and the Huron had left to preach the Christian faith to their brothers and sisters from the other Kahnawaké, but even more important - without a doubt -- to come to look for, among the Mohawks, this exquisite little Tekakwitha who would become, following the words of a missionary : a saint among the just and the faithful. (Father Cholenec, s.j.)

 

 

References:

(1)La Vie gracieuse de Catherine Tekakwitha, Juliette Lavergne, Éditions A.C.F., Montréal, 1934, pp. 77-142.

(2)* If anyone knows the name of the artist of this painting, please write to me at normlev@leveillee.net. Thank you in advance. (Norm Léveillée)

(3)Permission to use this work was requested from Fides in an email dated 22 Jan 2005. Response dated 31 January 2005 indicated that the contract for that era needs to be searched.



Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
Flower of the Algonquins
Lily of the Mohawks
pray for us.


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