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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was recognized for performing a miracle, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI last month, and the result is the Oregon-based parochial school system is now called St. Kateri Catholic Schools.

Father Eric Schild, president of St. Kateri Catholic Academy and Cardinal Stritch Catholic High School, was in The Vatican to witness the canonization of Kateri, a young Native American girl who converted to Catholicism.

In turn, the Blessed Kateri Deanery has been renamed the St. Kateri Deanery.

Fr. Schild was among a group of 35 individuals from the Toledo Diocese who stood about 10 feet from The Pope when he hosted his weekly general audience on a Wednesday.

SchildVatican
St. Kateri students Brandon and Matthew Payeff
and Fr. Eric Schild (center) at the Basilica of St.
Francis of Assisi. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Schild)

“We were very close, which was quite the awesome experience,” Fr. Schild said. “For a canonization itself, which was Sunday, October 21, we were among I’ve heard upwards of 100,000 people and there were seven saints canonized that day, Kateri being one.

“Just to be there among all these nationalities of people really gave me a sense of just a universal church and how the Catholic Church has just embraced everyone. So, there is a beautiful sense of universal church,” Schild continued.

“You saw people from the Native American community with their full head dresses and Native American wear and people from New York and Canada (from Kateri’s homeland), and you had people from Germany and The Philippines because there was a Philippine sainted. You had the Italians and you had all these people there from Ohio.”

Joining Fr. Schild were current and former students from St. Kateri, including Stritch High School graduates now in college, a teacher, and members of St. Kateri’s board of directors. They spent eight days and seven nights visiting The Vatican and Rome.

“It was fantastic. It was an amazing, amazing trip, and just a lot of great things happened and it was a one of a lifetime opportunity to be there for the canonization of somebody who had so much to do with our school,” Fr. Schild said.

“If a Catholic school doesn’t celebrate the canonization of a saint that is its’ namesake, then I don’t know what we would celebrate. Our group was among many thousands of people to ask for her intercession and to cheer her on as she became a saint.”

While in Rome, the group did its share of sightseeing, too. For Fr. Schild, however, this was his fourth trip to The Vatican and Rome, However, like the old cliché goes, “You can’t see all of Rome in a lifetime,” he said.

“We were all over the place. We did see some of the secular sites like The Coliseum and some of those things, but we spent most of our time visiting some of the main churches in Rome that are key to the Catholic Church — the major basilicas over there. We spent a day in Assisi as pilgrims to St. Francis and St. Clair. It was just some wonderful, wonderful experiences there. We kept quite busy,” Fr. Schild said.


Who was Kateri Tekakwitha?
Fr. Schild said he is unaware of any other schools in the United States named after St. Kateri, but admits there may be some. So the name is unique, and even if there are others, he says there must be very few.

It was in December 2008 that the deanery announced that schools within Kateri would all close and that’s when the whole system started coming together on the campus of Cardinal Stritch. The reconfiguration was expected to save the Catholic school system $1 million in its first year alone.

The school system’s board of directors voted to move the Kateri Catholic Academy Elementary School to existing space at the Oregon campus beginning with the 2010-2011 academic year.

The preschool and kindergarten is located in the former convent, which is a separate building on the campus that was to be renovated to also include office space. The main building is separated into three distinct areas for the elementary, middle and high schools.

So why was St. Kateri chosen for the deanery and the school’s name? Let Fr. Schild explain.

“Blessed Kateri, now St. Kateri Tekakwitha, was from New York, and she was an American-Indian,” Fr. Schild said. “She was a member of the Mohawk tribe, and she converted to Christianity. The Jesuit missionaries there helped to convert her, and when she converted her tribe ostracized her. They did not like the fact that she had become a Christian.

“Young Kateri was forced to go find another tribe that would welcome her so she actually ended up in Canada with a tribe that would welcome her. She was a very faithful young woman who went through a lot of suffering. She lost her parents at a young age and she got smallpox which left her face disfigured and she wasn’t able to see very well.

“So, Kateri died at a young age and her last words were, ‘Jesus, I love you.’ So after a life of suffering, hardship, and some pain, she passed away, and when she passed her face became beautiful again. All of the disfigurement that was caused by the smallpox went away after her death and immediately devotion spread like wildfire.

“Our deanery, which includes all of Oregon, Walbridge, Bono, and East Toledo, was named after her when they formed it. When they formed the school system, which is a combination of all the parishes that support this deanery’s school system, they named it after her because obviously there were hurt feelings about St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Sacred Heart being closed, so they wanted to find a more normal neutral name. In the meantime, in these past few years, The Pope certified a miracle that was attributed to her, and that led her to become canonized as a saint.”