Fort McCoy News March 11, 2016

Catholic community named in honor of St. Kateri

Public Affairs Staff

Fort McCoy's Catholic community was named in honor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in a special Mass Feb. 21 at the installation.

St. Kateri, also known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," is the first Native American recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. She is the patroness of ecology and the environment, people in exile, and Native Americans.

The Most Rev. William Callahan, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse, joined the Fort McCoy Catholic community to celebrate the naming of the community in St. Kateri's honor.

Photo: Members of the Fort McCoy Catholic community participate in a special Mass Feb. 21 at the installation Catholic Chapel.
Members of the Fort McCoy Catholic community participate in a special
Mass Feb. 21 at the installation Catholic Chapel.
Photo by Vanessa Barnes

While often a physical church is named after a patron saint, Callahan said naming the community is far more important.

"A lot of times when people think about church, they think about the building," Callahan said.

But, he said, the church is far more than the building or the trappings of rituals.

"The people are the important element of what we are in the sight and the witness of almighty God throughout the ages of humanity," Callahan said.

"We're naming the community. We're naming the people of God, which is what the church does."

Callahan said St. Kateri is a "uniquely American" saint, which made her the perfect patron saint for the community.

"We are proud to be sons and daughters of God," Callahan said, "and we are proud to be men and women who are people of strong belief in the goals and the beauty and the wonder of our country."

In Catholicism, patron saints are regarded as advocates, able to intercede with God on behalf of their communities and those who pray for them.

Patron saints also provide examples of how to overcome challenges through their life stories.

"Throughout our lives, we have examples of holiness," Callahan said. "(Today) we take an example; we take a hero."

St. Kateri's struggles as a Christian provide an example for today's men and women, Callahan said. She converted to Catholicism at the age of 19, taking a vow of chastity. Both her conversion and her refusal to marry led to her tribe shunning her, and she left her home for Kahnawake, a Jesuit mission village south of Montreal.

"It is good that this Catholic community has chosen to name this great saint, this great American, as a hero for this community — as a patron for this community," Callahan said. "To continually keep in mind that the call to follow Jesus is not easy. Kateri is a witness to that.

"She is the pure symbol of a strong and beautiful people, but she is also the symbol of a strong and beautiful Christian people," he said.

The Oneida Singers, of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, ended the Mass with several traditional hymns in their own language.
Afterward, members of the community, representatives of the diocese, and the Oneida Singers met at the Chapel Center for a special brunch.

Garrison Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ike Eweama said St. Kateri was chosen partly because of her connection to the Oneidas, some of whom relocated from the New York area to Wisconsin in the 1800s and established a nation near Green Bay.

"When (St. Kateri) was persecuted for being a Christian, the Oneida tribe, the king of the Oneidas, saved her from her own people and took her across the river to Canada," he said.

The chaplain said the naming of the community is important because it lets people "claim this place as a spiritual home."

"This installation has been in existence for 107 years, and the Catholic community has been in existence as long, but they (didn't) have a name," Eweama said.

Naming the Catholic community strengthens the community by giving members a sense of belonging, Eweama said. While many of the faces in the chapel may change from week to week, given Fort McCoy's nature as a transient training installation, he said it was important to form a place where people can stay and thrive.

For more information about religious services at Fort McCoy, call the Religious Support Office at 608-388-3528.