James Theodore Holly vs. Kateri Tekakwitha

Welcome to the final battle of a wacky, saint-filled week! Today we get James Theodore Holly vs. Kateri Tekakwitha. And, yes, things only get harder as we move deeper into the bracket. It's Madness!

Yesterday, Teresa of Avila swept past Stephen 60% to 40% to become the first saint to make it to the Elate Eight.

If you’re a competing type and, well, maybe your original bracket blew up, you can start anew with the Saintly Sixteen! This new feature allows you to pit your predictions against others in the Lent Madness voting public. Give it a try here! And then go vote.

James Theodore Holly

"Notwithstanding the remarkable progress of philanthropic ideas and humanitarian feelings, during the last half-century, among almost every nation and people throughout the habitable globe; yet the great mass of the Caucasian race still deem the negro as entirely destitute of those qualities, on which they selfishly predicate their own superiority."

Bishop James Theodore Holly unleashed these words in a lecture entitled "A Vindication of the capacity of the Negro race for self-government, and civilized progress, as demonstrated by historical events of the Haytian revolution: and the subsequent acts of that people since their national independence." The title says a lot, and Holly says much more. Much like reading Howard Thurman, one could highlight and underline much of this text as accurate, necessary, scathing, and painful, no matter where you find yourself in his discourse and how many commas he used.

"And we may add to this overwhelming class that cherish such self-complacent ideas of themselves...a large quota also of that small portion of the white race, who profess to believe the truth...that "He has made of one blood, all the nations that dwell upon the face of the earth." We may add a large number of the noisy agitators of the present day, who would persuade themselves and the world that they are really Christian philanthropists, to that overwhelming crowd who openly traduce the negro; because too many of those pseudo-humanitarians have lurking in their heart of hearts, a secret infidelity in regard to the real equality of the black man, which is ever ready to manifest its concealed sting, when the full and unequivocal recognition of the negro, in all respects, is pressed home upon their hearts." In short, in 1857, Holly identified racists and those with imposter syndrome.

"Hence, between this downright prejudice against this long-abused race, which is flauntingly maintained by myriads of their oppressors on the one hand; and this woeful distrust of his natural equality, among those who claim to be his friends, on the other; no earnest and fearless efforts are put forth to vindicate their character, by even the few who may really acknowledge this equality of the races." Ouch. And accurate. "But to the contrary, everything is done by the enemies of the negro race to vilify and debase them. And the result is, that many of the race themselves, are almost persuaded that they are a brood of inferior beings." ALMOST. Praise God for almost!

He then shares his reason for his lecture: "I wish, by the undoubted facts of history, to cast back the vile aspersions and foul calumnies that have been heaped upon my race for the last four centuries, by our unprincipled oppressors; whose base interest, at the expense of our blood and our bones, have made them reiterate, from generation to generation, during the long march of ages, everything that would prop up the impious dogma of our natural and inherent inferiority." Thank God for the life and witness of Bishop Holly. May we continue the work.

— Miriam Willard McKinney

Kateri Tekakwitha

Kateri Tekakwitha’s story resonates in a time of pandemic when her own life was marked by a smallpox epidemic that claimed her family and her eyesight.

Her story also resonates in a time of war, as she lived in exile from her land and people, fleeing persecution for her Christian beliefs to a Jesuit mission near Montreal.

The quirkier and more quotable parts of Kateri Tekakwitha’s story largely come to us from two Jesuit priests who knew her, Pierre Cholenec and Claude Chauchetiere.

In the priests’ telling, the story of her journey to the mission plays out like an action movie. While her uncle was away, she fled their home in what is now New York with a Christian relative and another man. The murderous uncle, hearing his niece had gone missing, loaded three bullets in his gun and pursued them. When he caught up to them, she was nowhere to be found, hidden in the forest.

At the mission, Kateri Tekakwitha famously asked the question, “Who will teach me what is most agreeable to God so that I may do it?” She often could be found at church, carrying a crucifix with her or making crosses from branches and hanging them in the trees when she was away. She also declined to marry and is believed to be the first Native American to take a vow of perpetual virginity.

Less quirky and more disturbing were her severe penances, such as praying the rosary in the snow or, after breaking through the ice, in the waters of a frozen river.

Kateri Tekakwitha died at just 24 years old — the penances probably didn’t help — during Holy Week at the mission. Her last words reportedly were “Jesus, Mary, I love you.”

Perhaps the most famous stories about the saint are what came next: How after her death, her smallpox-scarred face reportedly became “changed and pleasant,” as Cholenec recounted. Lilies supposedly bloomed from the place where Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” was buried. Several people at the mission claimed to have seen her in visions after her death, including Chauchetiere.

In the priest’s vision, she appeared “surrounded by glory, bearing a pot full of maize,” he wrote. At her side was an overturned church building, which proved prophetic: Months later, a storm destroyed the mission church. Like a scene from another action movie, three priests were “carried into the air.” All were later found with just minor injuries, which they credited to the prayers of Kateri Tekakwitha.

Cholenec wrote of her, “All the French who are in the colonies, as well as the Indians, hold her in singular veneration. They come from a great distance to pray at her tomb, and many, by her intercession, have been immediately cured of all maladies, and have received from heaven other extraordinary favors.” For the French, he said, “She then made it apparent, that one is able to serve God in all places where his providence calls him.”

Her story still does.

— Emily McFarlan Miller


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65 comments on “James Theodore Holly vs. Kateri Tekakwitha”

  1. Having heard Allan Boesak, the South African anti apartheid campaigner, speak last night on the power of white solidarity in the face of the injustices that still persist today, I cast my vote for James Theodore Holly and for all those still standing in solidarity with the oppressed and the marginalised.

    1. I meant to click on the heart only once, but it registered 3 clicks. I only voted once, so I hope not to be sent to the bad place reserved for those who vote more than once.
      When I think of South Africa, I think of Archbishop Tutu and former President Nelson Mandela and their Peace and Reconciliation Commission. I was fortunate to hear Archbishop Tutu speak a number of years ago. May they both Rest In Peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them. Thanks be to God for their lives and ministries.

  2. I wish that the narrative on James Theodore Holly had included more than his words. Although his mission was, indeed, wonderful, the tale of the life of Katen was engaging and harrowing. Thus, unlike the obvious majority, my vote went to Katen.

  3. My vote is for James Holly, who was such an advocate for the worth of all human beings. My prayer is for Haiti and the world, asking for peace and cessation of greed, violence and oppression.

  4. I wish we could hear more from Kateri Tekakwitha in her own voice, as so much of what is attributed to her here echoes masochistic tropes from earlier female Catholic saints. It's as if the priests recreated her in their own image and for their own purposes. But who was she really?

    I voted for Holly, as his prophetic statements about racism and injustice -- despite our manifold assurances that we are one in God -- still ring true. I was angered and disgusted this week at the way so many of the Republican senators on the Justice Committee felt they could treat Ketanji Brown Jackson with abusive disrespect -- with impunity, mugging for the cameras. Really? Praise God for Cory Booker and his healing words.

    We so need the best of all of us; why do people persist in needing to bond over hurting others? And how it is that right now so many of them in America are doing so in God's name?

    1. I, too, was disgusted by the awful treatment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. I was embarrassed as well. I did not vote for an of the senators who treated her so badly, but they still are numbered among our nation's leaders. Judge Jackson and the U.S. deserve respect. About those who did not render it to her or our country, my mother would have said, "They just don't know how to act." From a southern lady of her generation, that's strong criticism, and I agree with her.

      1. Thank you. I was appalled that senators who know better would grandstand for their base and assault with words the nominee. Their mothers are squirming (or should be).

      2. Ms Elaine. I agree with you. These senators forget that they are REPRESENTATIVES, not leaders. We must remind them with our votes.

    2. Exactly why Holly got my vote. If racism is so prevalent today I can only imagine what it must have been like for him. My prayers are for Ketanji Brown Jackson and her bravery and modeling for every women.

  5. A vote for James Holly. The contents of the quotes remind me of James Baldwin's writings. Recommend Dr. Eddie Glaude's book BEGIN AGAIN about Baldwin's work and influence.

  6. I love them both, but am voting for Bishop James Holly today. I'm also hoping Holly goes "all the way" to the Golden Halo!

  7. I’ve been unable to vote for three days. Please cast my vote for Bishop Holly. Thanks.

  8. Voted for Kateri . Breaking the ice and taking a dip was what Native folks did. Staying clean was common practice and some of the young folks still do it. So that was only a big deal to the white guys. Kateri is a popular Saint even in Ojibwa territory.

  9. Any way I can access the first posts about these two? I confess I so loved Lydia that I missed all the info about the good bishop.

      1. I seem to recall that one year you could click the names in the bracket for a link to their original post. Not sure how hard that is to implement, but it was a great feature

  10. Unfortunately, there are still many who believe that people of color are inferior and always will be. All honor to Bishop Holly for his eloquent and forceful refutation of these prejudices and lies.
    Today's LM is another tough one. I voted for Kateri Tekawitha because of the elegant simplicity and humility of her question, "Who will teach me what is most agreeable to God so that I may do it?" Repeating this question may be one of the best ways to begin each day.

  11. With neither bracket pick having advanced to this contest, I have no limerick to offer. Shame, but as the French say, "C'est le carême".

  12. The system has some sort of glitch that makes voting really hard. I have to work at getting a mark next to a name. I hope this can be fixed. Some days it’s easier not to vote than to keep trying to no avail. Thank you for any help you can give.

    1. I have had that same problem. I don't think my vote went through. I still really look forward to it every morning ing

  13. Realizing that lack of space to highlight the accomplishments of these saints is a factor in the presentation, I regret that there was nothing said about the vast contributions made by Bishop Holly in Haiti. Hopefully some folks will further explore the facts of his life.

  14. Voted for James Holly this morning. Watching the senate hearings regarding Judge Brown Jackson makes me realize how far this country has come in race relations but also how far it still has to go. And I do wonder why Kateri thought it a good thing to pray the rosary in the snow or a frozen river. That is a rather odd view of religion in my opinion.

  15. I Do love that Kateri's goal was to SO WHAT MOST PLEASED GOD, however her short life offered her little time to do that. James certainly seemed more productive in his goal to help people be colorblind to skin.

  16. Could you print a link to the sports commentary you had (last Monday?). I've lost it and I'd like to see it with each matchup.

  17. I voted Kateri the first time around, and had planned to vote for her again—what a marvelous story. However, I stand convicted of my ignorance and had to vote for James Holly. Hard choice.

  18. I wish there were a different Native American saint I could vote for. But Kateri Tekakwitha fits all too well into the disturbing paradigm of women, usually young, usually virgins, who severely abuse their bodies and die early. Even if Kateri’s physical mortifications were consonant, as I’ve read elsewhere, with her Mohawk tradition, they give me nothing to emulate. And as one commenter in the first round asked, during her all too short lifetime what did she actually *do*?

    That in this round she is matched with the supremely eloquent and active James Theodore Holly, himself a member of a (still) disregarded and oppressed group of people, makes my vote for him a no-brainer.

    1. Thank you for that comment - all the young-dying self-abusive female saints DO get a bit old.

  19. I was going to vote for Kateri, but Bishop Holly's words, coming in this week when we have witnessed the still blatant racism of many of our so called leaders, convinced me to cast my vote on behalf of justice for all our African American saints. It was a hard choice.

  20. Is James Theodore Holly a saint? He certainly is a man who boldly spoke truth to power, but I didn’t hear what part faith played in his life. Besides, there’s no halo in his picture! Just wondering.

    1. He is remembered in our Lesser Feasts and Fasts on March 13, so he qualifies. And served Haiti and through it all of God's people sacrificially and eloquently.

  21. Back to the ladies today. Kateri needs more recognition because she died so young yet left a lasting impression on the wort

  22. If we are to indulge in rating "saints" then being saintly, doing saintly acts, and living a saintly life seem to me the criteria we must impose while judging. Holly is a brilliant and courageous social justice critic, well aware of racism, long before his time, but Kateri's story embodies all the reasons we have saints in the first place.

  23. This was a tough one, both I could of voted for, Kateri it was for me. She went through a lot of suffering for her faith. I also pray for solidarity in the community with all races.

  24. Miriam's account of Holly and Holly's words hit at the bone of our life today, and notable this week -- Supreme Court Hearings anyone?!

  25. Another pairing of worthy opponents. My vote went to Kateri in honour of the work of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Anglican Church of Canada's ReconciliAction program.

  26. Today was the first time I had trouble voting. Just to pass on information to those who need it -- I had the endless circle of dots when I clicked on my choice. I exited the whole site and then got back on. That time when I looked at the current contest not only was there nowhere to vote, but no results showing either. So I got out again and waited half an hour or so before I got back on. This time the voting block was there, I voted without any problem, and the results showed up with the "thank you for your vote." I promise not to try to vote again!