Saint Kateri relic: rescued!

Thanks to 21st century crowd sourcing, a relic of a 17th century saint can now come home

It took only ten days for a unique GoFundMe campaign to make history with the rescue of a precious reliquary that—it appears—holds a priceless first-class relic of St. Kateri Tekakwitha—patroness of ecology and the environment, people in exile, and Native Americans.

The wildly successful #BringKateriHome campaign was the brainchild of my friend Bill Jacobs, President of the Board of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center, on which I also serve.

“I am extremely grateful and humbled—overwhelmed really—by the tremendous response we have had in such a short period of time,” said Jacobs earlier this evening. “I am also deeply moved by the demonstration of love and honor that so many have shown for our beloved Saint Kateri.”

St. Kateri was canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. She is the first Native North American saint.

The reliquary comes with supporting documentation signed and stamped by Édouard-Charles Fabre, Archbishop of Montreal in 1893. With its rescue assured as of today, Jacobs said, the next task will be to reclaim it from the seller so that it can be authenticated.

Jacobs was also clear that the total donation amount at the GoFundMe campaign was intended only to recover the cost of the reliquary. “The relic inside [a piece of bone] is priceless, and would be acquired as a gift,” he said in the campaign’s website.

Some of the documentation attesting
to the authenticity of the contents
of the reliquary.

“It is the reliquary, the ‘container’ of the relic, which is being purchased to preserve this precious relic.”

Church law allows the purchase of a reliquary to "rescue" the relic inside from mistreatment. “The goal of the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center is to protect this sacred relic from desecration and profanation,” Jacobs said, “to return it to the Church. “

The need for the rescue was brought to Jacob’s attention when he was contacted by the seller after Jacobs had been part of a conversation on Facebook about another reliquary with a smaller relic of St. Kateri.

“Someone came forward and bought it—the smaller one—to rescue its relic,” Jacobs said. “That sparked discussion on Facebook about St. Kateri and relics. That’s when the owner of the larger reliquary contacted me.”

Jacobs and the owner—who wishes to be anonymous—exchanged emails in early January. The owner said that he had acquired the reliquary as part of a lot of auction contents. The owner preferred that the reliquary be returned to the Church but couldn’t afford to donate it, Jacobs said.

“He didn’t want to make a profit, but he needed to recoup what he had paid. And I couldn’t afford to purchase the reliquary myself,” Jacobs said, “so that led me to try the GoFundMe campaign.”

Within days of the posting, the Catholic media—Patheos and the Catholic New Agency especially—began following the crowd sourcing—which some say is one of the first public campaigns to rescue a first-class relic. “Most of the people who commented on social media were supportive. And we did check with priests to make sure we were not breaking any Church law.”

Support also came via social media, such as from Fr. Matthew Schneider.

Once the reliquary is retrieved, the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center will present it to a Catholic shrine, chapel, or church near where Saint Kateri lived for safe keeping and respectful public veneration, as approved.

The timing of the rescue is providential. The Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center has recently finished its incorporation process so that it can begin fulfilling its mission to promote Catholic teaching on ecology and the environment, to conserve nature, and to protect life.

Visit here for more about the Center.

For now, if the success of this campaign to rescue St. Kateri is any indicator, both the saint and a great many people here on earth will be helping the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center as it works to help the Church preserve the types of places that Kateri loved so much.

Stay tuned for much more in the weeks and months ahead. But for now, may St. Kateri pray for us!

Photos: The Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.