Chance Ryan / Houma Courier
DULAC, La. -- Angelle Hatch waits all year to wear her jingle dress and perform a ritual dance for the annual Native American Mass in Dulac.
'It's a lot of hard work,' she said after the church ceremony Friday night, 'but I like seeing everyone happy.'
The handmade dress is festooned with 365 tiny bells that jingle wildly as she dances to commemorate St. Kateri Tekakwitha's life and how she has been the only Native American officially recognized by the Catholic Church as blessed.
'The 365 bells are for each day in the year,' she said. 'You say a prayer for each day.'
Last year, Pope Benedict canonized Tekakwitha during a Vatican ceremony.
But local Native Americans have long shown their devotion to Tekakwitha. The Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church is now in its 19th year.
Friday's ceremony began with a reading of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's story. Then there was the Blessing of Four Directions, traditional Native American dancing the fanning of sage, cedar and tobacco smoke; and drumming from the Miracle Drum Group of Pointe-aux-Chenes.
Dulac resident Kathy Verdin is the founder of a local Kateri Circle a group that followed Tekakwitha's canonization process. Verdin traveled to the Vatican last year with 15 other residents, including the Rev. Roch Naquin and Houma-Thibodaux Bishop Sam Jacobs, to witness the event.
Verdin, who formed the Kateri Circle more than 20 years ago, helps organize Holy Family's annual Kateri Mass honoring Tekakwitha.
'We have rich traditions which a lot of people don't understand,' she said. 'But we are more similar than people think, and we want more people to come to experience just how wonderful this is.'
Naquin, the retired former pastor of the Dulac church, said Tekakwitha stands for peace, kindness and love.
'She was a person that lived a very simple, but a very holy way of life,' he said. 'She was very charitable and she worked to help the elderly and children.'
The Mass attracted about 300 people, and more attended a reception afterward at the Grand Caillou Recreation Center.
Tekakwitha was born in 1656 near what is today Auriesville, N.Y. At age 4, her parents and brother were killed by smallpox, which left her nearly blind and her face scarred. She was then taken in by her two aunts and her uncle, a Mohawk chief.
After Tekakwitha decided to devote her life to God, she was considered an outcast by her Native American family. In 1677, she fled more than 200 miles to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Sault Saint-Louis, near Montreal.
Kateri lived the rest of her life dedicated to prayer, penance and care for the sick and aged until her death at 24 in 1680, according to the Catholic Church. Moments after dying, priests said they witnessed the smallpox scars on her face miraculously clear.
Tekakwitha's canonization process began in 1884. In 1943, she was declared venerable by Pope Pius XII, a move that marked her as a righteous person who is a candidate for canonization. In 1980, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II.