Kateri Tekakwitha was born around 1656 in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York. She was the daughter of a Mohawk chief, and Tagaskouita, a Roman Catholic Algonquin who had been adopted into the tribe after capture. Her mother Tagaskouita had been baptized and educated by French missionaries in Trois-Rivières, east of Montreal. Mohawk warriors captured her and took her to their homeland.
The Jesuits’ account of Kateri said that she was a modest girl who avoided social gatherings; she covered much of her head with a blanket because of the smallpox scars. They told that, as an orphan, she was under the care of uninterested relatives. According to Mohawk practices, she was probably well taken care of by her clan, her mother and uncle's extended family, with whom she lived in the longhouse.
Kateri grew up in a period of constant change as the Mohawk interacted with French and Dutch colonists. In the fur trade, the Mohawk originally traded with the Dutch, who had settled in Albany and Schenectady. The French traded with and were allied with the Huron. Trying to make inroads in Iroquois territory, the French attacked the Mohawk in present-day central New York in 1666, destroying several villages and their winter stores.
Judging her ready for true conversion, Lamberville baptized Tekakwitha at the age of 20, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676. This is significant because, according to Jesuit policy, baptism was usually withheld for new converts until one was on his deathbed or until the missionaries could be certain that the convert would be committed.
The Jesuits had founded Kahnawake for the religious conversion of the natives. When it began, the natives built longhouses for residences. They also built a longhouse to be used as a chapel by the Jesuits.
The Jesuits wanted to guide natives and share their Catholic religion, but at this time, they did not provide for natives to be trained or ordained as clergy or religious. The most devout of the natives wanted full access to the religion and believed that some secrets were being held from them. As most converts to Catholicism were women, they comprised the majority of the devout.
Around the period of Holy Week 1679, friends noted that Tekakwitha was failing. When people knew she had but a few hours left, villagers gathered together, accompanied by the priests Chauchetière and Cholenec. Cholenec provided the last rites. Catherine Tekakwitha died on Wednesday in the Holy Week, April 17, 1680, at around 15:00, at the age of 23 or 24, in the arms of her friend Marie-Therèse. Chauchetière reports her final words were, "Jesus, I love you."