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. I really wanted to vote for Kateri, but when I compare her accomplishments with James, I find his more compelling. Even though the struggle for equality among the races still continues and sometimes it seems no progress is made, I commend James for his efforts, and only wish more people knew about him. Thanks for bringing him to our little Lenten gathering's attention, so we can spread knowledge of this man and his contributions to the struggle.

  2. Before being sent as Bishop to Haiti, The Rev. James Holly was the Rector of an historic & major black church, St. Luke's in New Haven, CT, which was the parish of Judge Constance Baker Motley -- first black woman to be a federal Judge in the U.S.

  3. "[T}o that overwhelming crowd who openly traduce the negro" (looking at you, Hawley, Cruz, Blackburn, and your ilk), I declare that I voted for Holly. And may today's Haiti receive international support for economic development and battling internal corruption. I would be happy to support indigenous sainthood, but I have some problems with praising vows of perpetual virginity among any class of people and especially among peoples being subjected to genocide and land dispossession. And telling Kateri she's pretty AFTER she died? So I vote for Holly and call for reparations for U.S. Indian tribes along with federal recognition of tribes that have waited so long just to be acknowledged as people.

  4. i cannot help but feel that Bishop James Theodore Holly's word ring as true today as ever. That there must be true acknowledgement of our racist actions and recognition for all people, of all colors. I pray that "But not me, Lord!" will not be the prevailing response to his words, but genuine recognition and change.

  5. Amazing words from 1857 and they still ring true today. Can we just sit down and talk about this?

  6. Another tough choice! I want to vote for both. But with the news this morning of more Haitian refugees being sent back to the misery in Haiti, we need the inspiration and prayers of James Holly, who gave his life for Haitian people (and our LORD).

  7. May the cheaters be consigned to vats of phlegm,
    but for those of us jeûning and praying during le Carême
    (well maybe less fasting and more voting)
    and attention to the saints’ lives devoting,
    this practice of daily discernment is a Lenten gem.

  8. James Holly's words still ring too true these days -- yes, this week -- over a century and a half later. Until we do much more to address and stop the sin of racism, he is a saint for our times.

  9. As one who is half Native American (my mother's side) my vote goes to Kateri. I am aware of the resistance I encounter today when some discover my heritage and I can only imagine what it was like for her in her time.

  10. There are many ways to serve God and endeavor to embody and live a life according to Christ. PLEASE stop the politicizing of fun, informative Lent Madness. If a Saint's life story touches you be inspired by it in your own life.

  11. My French and Dutch ancestors also fled religious persecution from the Catholics in Europe right around the time Kateri was born. They settled in New Amsterdam and New Netherlands (NY and NJ). They were among the founders of the Dutch Reform church, and I'm sure they had a part in bringing some Native Americans to Christianity. My family continued to live in Northern NJ throughout the years where I was born and raised in 1948. I feel for Kateri and her difficult life. She was so young, yet so determined to do what God wanted her to do. I had to vote for her!

  12. I am voting for James based on his eloquent writings, which should be more widely known. James for the win today.

  13. I can’t seem to vote on the bracket. When I select play bracket, it says it’s over. Am I doing something wrong?

  14. Tried to vote at 9:10pm PST and I couldn't!!
    What is wrong with you, SEC??
    Did you want to disregard the entire west coast??

  15. It's only 2 am and I thought the voting closed at 8am. I'm disappointed to not being able to vote on this one. I usually don't vote until late due to my work schedule and haven't had a problem until today.

    Would have voted for Holly anyway.

    1. Same thing happened to me. I though I had until 8 am Eastern time. Did that change this year?

    2. same here, I often vote in the small hours of eastern time, but first thing in the morning my time.
      alas today it says the poll is not accepting votes.

      1. I had forgotten that I hadn't voted and came to vote and the poll was closed early!

        I'd have probably voted for Bishop James this time around. If only to protect Kateri from the kitsch round.

        And a note, I have noticed several comments in which Kateri was misspelled. Please let us have some respect and spell people's names correctly.

  16. I thought that voting was 8 pm to 8 am. I wanted to vote for James Holly, but "This poll is no longer accepting votes". Well it looks like he won, regardless of my vote not being accepted.