Residents of a Mohawk community just outside of Montreal are celebrating because a woman who lived in the area more than three centuries ago is about to be named a Roman Catholic saint.
The Vatican announced that Kateri Tekakwitha, of Kahnawake, will become North America's first aboriginal saint.
Deacon Ronald Boyer is the Canadian vice-postulator for her canonization. He has been advocating for Tekakwitha to be named a saint since 2007.
'People have been waiting for this for a lifetime. People have dedicated their lives to see this day happen.' —Clinton Phillips, of the Mohawk Council
He said native people in North America have been pushing to have her declared a saint since her death, 331 years ago.
On Monday, parishioners at the St. Francis Xavier Mission in Kahnawake took turns ringing the bells in celebration.
The Catholic church is the home of Kateri Tekakwitha's tomb and a popular destination for pilgrims.
Parishioner Gayla Ouimet said Tekakwitha is
not only revered by Christian native people, but traditional aboriginal people too.
"She always answers your prayers and we have a big devotion to her," said Ouimet.
Clinton Phillips of the Mohawk Council said he was surprised by the news.
"I just about almost drove off the bridge," said Philips, "People have been waiting for this for a lifetime. People have dedicated their lives to see this day happen."
A saint that healed through prayer
Tekakwitha was born in upstate New York to a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother. Her parents and brother died of smallpox when she was only four years old. The disease left her visually impaired and disfigured.
Tekakwitha fled to Kahnawake when her Native American kin in upstate New York persecuted her.
Her followers say she devoted her life to God and healed many through prayer.
They say when she died, at the age of 24, she was "glorified" and her facial scars vanished.
Tekakwitha will be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI along with six others including a caregiver named Mother Marianne who worked with people who had leprosy in Hawaii in the late 19th century.