American saints among us

It’s often so easy to think of the saints as people who were not like us – popes, bishops, nuns, founders of religious orders, martyrs in foreign lands.

This weekend the Catholic calendar of saints recalls three  people who lived in the Americas.

Today is the feast of St. Teresa de las Andes, who died a Carmelite nun at the age of twenty on April 12, 1920. Her feast is celebrated in her native Chile today, her birthday.

She was raised in a well-to-do family in Santiago, Chile. Inspired by the Carmelite saint Thérèse of Lisieux (the Little Flower), she entered a very poor Carmelite convent in Los Andes at the age of nineteen, offering her life for the sanctification of priests and the repentance of sinners. She also wrote many letters on the spiritual life. She died of typhus.

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, “the Lily of the Mohawks,” who died at the age of twenty-three on April 17, 1680, in a Christian mission near Montreal.

She was born near what is now Auriesville, New York, and orphaned at the age of four, due to a smallpox epidemic. She was nicknamed Teakakwitha – “The one who walks groping the way” – because her vision was affected by smallpox.

She was baptized in her native village when she was about twenty. But because of her conversion and desire to remain a virgin, she fled. At the mission she lived a holy life and even proposed founding a convent. The priests dismissed the idea, supposing that Native Americans were unsuited for religious life. In 1679, a year before her death, she made a public vow of chastity.

Kateri is the first native American saint.

Today is also the feast of a much lesser know holy person, Blessed Carlos (Charlie) Rodriguez, of Puerto Rico, who died fifty years ago today, on July 13, 1963, at the age of forty-four.

He is known for his devotion to the liturgy and his efforts to encourage active participation in the liturgy, particularly intent on making the celebration of the Easter Vigil central to the life of faith. “We live for this night,” he said.

He studied at the university, though debilitated by a disease (ulcerative colitis) that eventually led to his death.

He worked for many years at the Catholic University Center in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, among other ministries founding a group to promote the liturgy.

He died before the Second Vatican Council promulgated The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Yet he was one of those who promoted the reforms that led up to this important document.

He is the first Puerto Rican to be declared blessed and the first layperson in the Caribbean and in the United States to be beatified.

He once wrote:

We need Catholics who are alert to the present moment, …modern Catholics who know how to nourish themselves in the past but whose eyes are fixed on the future.

The Americas have been blessed by the presence of people like Teresa, Kateri, and Charlie. But there are saints all around us. Look for them, get to know them, and live as if you too are called to be a saint. We are so called.

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