Olaf vs. Kateri Tekakwitha

Congratulations! You’ve officially made it through the first matchup of Lent Madness 2022. And, like a slow rolling Lenten train, the battles just keep on coming. Today it’s Olaf vs. Kateri Tekakwitha as we pit an 11th century Norwegian king against a 17th century Native American saint. It’s called Lent “Madness” for a reason, after all.

In yesterday’s Opening Day matchup, amid heavy voter turnout, Stephen outlasted Wenceslaus 54% to 46% to become the first saint to make it to the Saintly 16. When last seen, Wenceslaus was overheard demanding someone, “Bring me flesh and bring me wine.” We wish him well. 

The first day of Lent Madness 2022 also found the Supreme Executive Committee having to deal with some voter fraud (seriously). At 10:30 pm we removed approximately 600 votes from Wenceslaus, all from a single address. This wasn't enough to tip the scales, but is a good reminder to vote once or face being banned to the outer Lent Madness darkness where there is weeping, gnashing of teeth, and no brackets. Be passionate, vote once, don't be a jerk.

Note that tomorrow is the ONLY weekend battle of Lent Madness 2022 as Mesrop Mashtots takes on Madeline Barat. From then on, Lent Madness will only take place on the weekdays of Lent. Now go vote!


Olaf II Haraldssön, also known as Olaf the Stout, was born in 995 of royal lineage. In his short 35 years of life, he was able to unite Norway and help spread Christianity across the land. Olaf’s early years were spent leading small bands of raiders in various conflicts against Danes. In one of the conflicts, he and his men are said to have brought down the London Bridge (thus inspiring the children’s song we all know and love). In 1013, Olaf was staying with Richard II of Normandy and was converted to Christianity. He was baptized by Richard’s brother, the Archbishop of Normandy, Robert the Dane. Shortly thereafter he experienced a call to return to Norway to unite it under Christianity.

He returned to Norway and brought nobles together under his leadership and became king of Norway in 1015, a position he held until 1028. He then proceeded to establish Christianity among the people using missionaries from England. His methods of conversion led to unrest in his subjects that would ultimately lead to his loss of power. Prior to losing his throne, he did manage to establish his Religious Code in 1024 and insisted that all laws be Christian laws. The brute enforcement of these laws, however, further weakened his power. In 1028, he was forced to abdicate the throne, and he fled to Russia.

The following year, he felt the call to reclaim his position and built an army to take back the throne. He was killed in 1030 in an ensuing battle. Tales of miracles abound about Olaf in that final battle and in the area around his burial place. These led to the exhumation of his body. When his grave was opened about a year later, it is said that the body smelled sweet, and his hair and nails had grown longer. He was quickly remembered as a saint and was one of the last saints to be canonized by both the Eastern and Western Church prior to the Great Schism.

His canonization inspired many of the Norse to convert to Christianity. To this day, he is a symbol of Norwegian independence and pride. After Mary, he is the most commonly depicted saint in medieval Norwegian art. His feast day is celebrated on July 29.

Collect for Olaf

Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Olaf, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

David Creech

Kateri Tekakwitha

“The narratives surrounding Saint Kateri are fascinating and, at times, contradictory,” writes Yakama scholar Michelle M. Jacob of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. That might be an understatement.

Kateri Tekakwitha’s story is best known from the narratives of two Jesuit priests who knew her, Pierre Cholenec and Claude Chauchetiere. According to the priests, Tekakwitha was born around 1656 to a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother in what is now Auriesville, New York. Four years later, she was orphaned by the smallpox epidemic.

Tekakwitha survived the disease, but it left her face disfigured and her eyes sensitive to light. She hid her face and shielded her eyes by veiling her head with a blanket. She was baptized when she was about 19 years old after Jesuit priests came to her village. 

At her baptism, she took the name Catherine—or its Mohawk approximation, Kateri—from Saint Catherine of Siena. In the priests’ telling, her community didn’t take kindly to Kateri Tekakwitha’s newfound faith, and she soon left for a Jesuit mission south of Montreal called Kahnawake. 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 also engaged in severe and disturbing penances, which likely accelerated her death at age 24 in 1680.

Native Christians have, in recent years, offered varying stories about Kateri. Mohawk historian and author Darren Bonaparte points out that the priests ignored that Kateri Tekakwitha was “a part of her culture, and a valued one at that.” She has the distinction of being the first weaver of wampum belts mentioned by name in recorded history. Jacob, the Yakama scholar, explores ways Native Christians continue to claim and be inspired by Kateri Tekakwitha.

For many, the saint “transforms Catholicism and provides Indigenous peoples and their allies with meaningful ways to center Indigenous culture within their spiritual practice”—a form of decolonization.

Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized in 2012. She is considered patron saint of the environment and of people in exile, and her feast day is celebrated on July 14.

Collect for Kateri Tekakwitha

Almighty and everliving God, who opened the heart of Kateri Tekakwitha to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ and to devote her life to your service: Grant us the same zeal of devotion to persevere in faith through the trials and tribulations of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Emily McFarlan Miller

Olaf vs. Kateri Tekakwitha

  • Kateri Tekakwitha (72%, 6,263 Votes)
  • Olaf (28%, 2,429 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,692

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Olaf: Images by David Castor, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Kateri Tekakwitha: Father Claude Chauchetière, S.J., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



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198 comments on “Olaf vs. Kateri Tekakwitha”

  1. Scandinavians often go gaga
    For this hero of many a saga.
    On his visit to town
    London Bridge got knocked down;
    Perhaps Olaf’s boys drank too much laga.

      1. Thank you, Emily. You have my full support should you wish to incorporate “Kateri” and or “Tekakwitha” into a limerick today!

        1. Kateri, cast out from her home,
          To Kahnawake did roam.
          God's will she professed
          To do it, no less,
          But her years were cut short . . .

          1. Not thrilled with either of today’s Saints or their write ups. It’s hard to “see” these very real people of their times through so many layers of history and change. But I loved your poem reply to John’s delightful limerick.

    1. All the "Saints" at Jubilee this evening were praising your limerick!

      Keep those lines tight.

    2. The Nordic drink is aqua vit.
      To compare that to lager is really a bit
      like apples and prunes,
      songs without tunes;
      still, after tapping a tun, one's lost one's wit.

  2. Had to go with Olaf and the country of my grandparents, but both are inspiring during very short lives.

  3. I went to CYO camp (Catholic Youth Organization) and the cabins were all named after saints. Those staying in Kateri Tekawith sang, with gusto, "We are the campers of Katie Tek!" So she gets my vote partly for the fond memories, and partly because she is not known as Kateri the Stout.

    It is early and I need more coffee.

  4. I voted for Kateri, but her bio was not helpful. Why was she canonized? What did she do to spread God's love? Self-abuse is not a good recommendation.

  5. I am impressed with Olaf conversion to christianity ,and using his power to spread the faith.

  6. I really don't like either of these options: A man who violently forced Christianity on his people vs. a woman who likely had Christianity forced on her, whose severe penances likely led to her early death.

    Christianity's message should flow with love and grace, not violence. I will not be voting today.

    1. I have a similar reaction. When I read about Olaf forcing "Christian laws" on people, I shuddered--too much of that going on today. But then I felt that somehow the story of Kateri is leaving out the backstory of her severe penances. Many things were done to native tribes to break them of their traditions--did that happen here? I appreciate how the Supreme Council provokes. I will have to ponder this a long time.

      1. Those trying to invoke those so-called "Christian laws" today are not true Christians at all. Much damage has been done for centuries "in the name of God."

      2. That is exactly why I voted for Katrina. She needs support for what most likey was not a "sweet conversion". Most likely she was stripped of her culture and her own spirit by the "white man's church". She has my vote

      3. Also abstaining today, for the reasons others have named: Olaf's violence and Kateri's excessive penance and possible victimization. I'd lean slightly towards her, simply because she wasn't operating from a position of power. But I'm not at all sure that either of them really belong in the calendar.

  7. I'm listening to news stories about attacks on a nuclear power plant, and waves of refugees arriving in Poland, Hungary, and Germany. Gotta vote for the patron saint of the environment and exiles. (Also, the words "built and army" do not move me today.)

  8. I like Kateri Tekakwitha because she has long hair like me and my mama.

    1. Joanna, that's as good a reason as any! Glad to see you participating in this year's Madness.

  9. I am very partial to Kateri since I live in New York State and have visited Auriesville many times during my life.

  10. Growing up in the northern reaches of New York State, I was sent to a summer camp run by the RC Diocese of Albany - Camp Tekakwitha. While I never really liked sleep away camp, I did learn at a very age about Kateri Tekakwitha (and learned how to spell her name at about age 8!). She has my vote.

  11. What did Kateri DO? Why was she canonized. I do not get why so many are voting for her. I have to vote for Olaf who was canonized by the Eastern and Western churches, apparently for good reason.

    1. That reason being power. The early church moved from celebrating exemplary lives to gaining political power. But I agree, the write up for Kateri could have said more of her charitable work.

  12. No brainer here. Not only did Olaf butcher his way through Europe, he +Christianized" his people with the sword, not his faith. Good intentions sometimes lead to bad outcomes. Kateri, on the other hand, led others to Christ by her unflinching example. Kateri for the win!

  13. Don't mean to be pedantic, but "St Madeline Borat"? Think her name was Barat (i.e. St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, and known as Sophie to her sisters in the Society of the Sacred Heart aka RSCJ; my husband and I are Associates of the order.)

  14. The name Olaf grabs me but my vote went to Kateri. John Cabot thank you for the LImerick but wish for one about Kateri.

  15. so... not really feeling either of these. Would have loved to have had Wenceslas as a choice today.

  16. While I usually try to favor women and minorities, I had to go with Olaf because it makes me think of my favorite snowman and I am a direct descendant - he is my 32nd great-grandfather through his daughter Ulfhilde or Wulfhilde Olofsdotter of Norway Duchess of Saxony. His remains were enshrined in Nidaros Cathedral, built over his burial site. He was posthumously given the title Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae (English: Eternal/Perpetual King of Norway). His canonization led to the conversion of many Vikings/Norsemen. Plus he was the reason London Bridge was falling down.

  17. I really did not want to vote for either. I am not sure why they are still venerated.
    Olaf didn’t exactly show his subjects the way of peace and I am bothered that Kateri may have been among the orphans that the Churches both Catholic and Anglican abused for the sake of converting them to the faith.

  18. Despite my Norwegian heritage, I am voting for Kateri in hopes that she is truly inspiring “meaningful ways” to honor Indigenous culture in (their) spirituality. Also because we could use her help today as patron saint of the environment and of people in exile.

  19. Kateri sounds fascinating and her story is certainly compelling. I had to vote for Olaf, however, because I find it difficult to celebrate her severe penances that may have accelerated her early death.

  20. The RC Church in my town is St. Catherine of Sienna. Only one of the reasons I'm voting for Kateri.

  21. It sounds like Kateri practiced a Christianity of toleration, and I would love to hear more of the Native American stories about her—I agree with those who felt much was missing from her narrative. I don’t hear anything kind and gentle in Olaf’s narrative, with the current situation in Ukraine I can’t vote for a conquerer today.

  22. Had to go with Kateri on this one, even though Olaf was an interesting fellow. I also am trying to keep the faith that Kateri wasn't a victim of the church's brutality, but actually had a true calling from God.

    1. I appreciate your second sentence there. Yes! Me, too. It is so hard to read brief accounts through our current lenses and it does seem easy (and popular) to assume that it wasn't fully her choice. But something in those sparse words connected me with her (in a personality way) and so, I too, am trying to keep faith that she answered the call and not a demand.

  23. With war and brutality Olaf brought Christianity to Norway. But, bring it..he did. Olaf has my vite.

  24. Kateri’s shrine is in Fonda, NY. I voted for her because I’ve been to her shrine and it’s peaceful and beautiful. She may have had Christianity foisted on her, but that’s more of a reason to lift her up to our view and raise awareness of how Indigenous peoples have been treated.

  25. Today's vote for me is shallow. I'm deep in my Norwegian genealogy so Olav it has to be. Kateri is an amazing witness so I will not be disappointed when my side goes down to defeat to today. But isn't siding with he underdog the Christian thing to do? 🙂

    1. Those are my feelings exactly. I take pride in my Norse ancestors and voted for Olaf, although I am in favor of rights of indigenous people.

  26. Can’t bring myself to vote on this one. Olaf’s wars vs. Tekakwitha’s victimization? No good choice here, so I’m abstaining.