The Renfrew County Catholic District School Board has officially named its virtual school in honour of a well-known and venerated saint, St. Kateri Tekakwitha (TECH A KWEE TAH).
On January 6, in keeping with the lockdown regulations in effect across the province, Father Bill Kenney led a virtual prayer and blessing. Chief Wendy Jocko, Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Virtual Catholic School Principal Dave Noble also participated virtually in the naming celebration.
The RCCDSB virtual school was implemented in September 2020 in response to Ministry of Education Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) 164: Requirements for Remote Learning. The PPM states that “During full or partial school closures or any other periods of remote learning, it is crucial to keep students engaged in their learning and provide access to a school community, a support network and authentic educational experiences in order to continue progress in their learning.”
“It is said that differences in culture amongst indigenous people and settlers are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every people and culture bring to the Church, and this country, new insights for understanding the Gospel. Similarly, the experience of virtual education will bring new insights and gifts. As St. Kateri is the patron saint of ecology and the environment, perhaps this is a reminder to always remain grounded and connected to mother earth in the digital age,” stated Chief Jocko.
The Board initially discussed four shortlisted names with the Diocese of Pembroke followed by consultation with staff, parents, students, priests, and other stakeholders. Before the selection was finalized the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan were also asked for input and gave their blessing to the name St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
“I am sure there will be much interest in the work of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Virtual Catholic School and we are proud to say that this work will be done in Algonquin Territory in the name of one of our ancestors,” said Chief Jocko during her virtual message.
Father Kenney advocated for the name St. Kateri Tekakwitha as “A powerful example for young children today.”
As Grade 7 student Alexandra shared, “I think this would be a great name for the online school because even though St. Kateri wasn’t born Catholic, she decided to follow Jesus on her own. I feel that this would set a great example for many students attending the virtual school and for others that hear her story. Also, she is the patron saint for the environment, aboriginals and sickness and right now the world is dealing with sickness and environmental problems so she is the saint we need at these times…”
The name St. Kateri Tekakwitha Virtual Catholic School was passed at the November 30 Board meeting, following key considerations outlined in the RCCDSB school naming policy.
“The name St. Kateri Tekakwitha is a unique school name in our Board and will kindle a school identity and spiritual bond for our virtual school students, staff, parents and community. I believe St. Kateri is an ideal role model and her story will inspire us all to live out the RCCDSB vision to love unconditionally,” stated Bob Schreader, RCCDSB Chairperson.
About St. Kateri Tekakwitha
St. Kateri, also known as ‘Lily of the Mohawks,’ was the first North American Indigenous person elevated to sainthood. Kateri was born to a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother in 1656. She became orphaned in 1660 when a smallpox epidemic afflicted her village, killing her parents and younger brother. Tekakwitha survived the epidemic but unfortunately was badly scarred on her face, her vision was impaired, and she was left in fairly poor health. After her village was destroyed by the French, her people chose to move across the Mohawk River, to Gandaouague. Although not a Christian in her upbringing, Kateri became influenced by Jesuit missionaries who came to her village and preached about Jesus Christ. Their message left such imprint on her that she became baptized in 1676 to the Catholic faith. Kateri was known to take on many penitential practices (fasting, prayer, sacrifice), and she decided to live a life dedicated to God by taking a vow of chastity. Kateri lived a very ordinary life, in prayer, sacrifice and care for the sick and elderly during very difficult times. St. Tekakwitha succumbed to ill health, in 1680, at the tender age of twenty-four. Soon after her death because of her faith in Jesus Christ, her scarred face was miraculously restored to its former beauty – a miracle ascribed to Kateri’s holiness.