Chief Norris honored at St. Kateri fête

GREENVILLE­—This year’s feast day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha was both a celebration and a remembrance for parishioners and guests at Our Lady of the Rosary Church.

The July 15 Mass honoring the patroness of the environment was held for the first time in the magnificent new church. A year ago, the new building was still a few weeks from its dedication. Work yet to be completed included installation of a stained glass of St. Kateri, rescued from a decommissioned Catholic church in Massachusetts.

That glass, along with stained glass windows of three Jesuits commemorating the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, has now been installed. The Jesuits brought the Catholic faith to Native American tribes in the 1600s.

St. Kateri, born in 1656 in a Mohawk village in what is now Upstate New York, died at age 24. She was beatified by St. Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

In his homily, Father Dwight Longenecker, pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary, said St. Kateri’s life, and her place in the Catholic Church, serves to inspire young women.

“There’s a line from a movie that goes ‘thank heaven for little girls,’ ” Father Longenecker said. “The ways of the world is men with power, not the world of little girls, but God has a way of surprising us.”

Father Longenecker said God chose the weak, not the strong, “young girls who were courageous and gave up their lives for the Church.”

St. Kateri was one of them.

“She gave her life completely, in service to God,” he said.

The Mass was followed by a dinner hosted by the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Ethnic Ministries. Members of the Keepers of the Word Drum Team, led by flutist Cathy Nelson, an Ojibwa Indian, performed Native American music for both the dinner guests and at Mass.

At the start of Mass, Father Longenecker announced the intention for the repose of the soul of Gene Norris, chief of the Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation and Our Lady of the Rosary parishioner, who died in May. Fellow parishioner and Native American Mary Louise Worthy now serves in the position of chief.

Chief Worthy wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke to around 100 people gathered for the dinner.

“This is difficult,” she said, pausing several times. “He told me many times that I would be doing this, one day. I just didn’t know it would come in this way.

“Gene was wonderful to work with. He taught me everything,” Chief Worthy said.

Chief Norris’ widow, Victoria, was a reader at the Mass and spoke during the dinner, praising Norris for his work with the tribe’s youngest members.

“Gene believed that the future of the tribe was closely tied to the future of its young people,” she said. She added that her husband believed well-educated youth strengthens the tribe.

“With determined and well-educated young people, the tribe continues to prosper,” she said.

Chief Norris worked with the South Carolina Indian Development Council and the South Carolina Commission on Minority Affairs, using them as resources for both young and older Native Americans in the state.

The next Ethnic Ministries celebration of Native American Catholics will be held Oct. 21 at the Native American Heritage Day at Corpus Christi Church in Lexington.

Miscellany/Terry Cregar: Mary Louise Worthy, chief of the Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina, speaks during a dinner celebration honoring St. Kateri Tekakwitha July 15.