In the footsteps of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Catholic Native Ministry matriarchs shared their culture and faith to evangelize

Sr. Frances Vista, DC
The North Star Catholic

The feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha is celebrated in the United States on July 14. St. Kateri was the first Indigenous American to be canonized as a saint.

Born in 1656 to a Mohawk chief, Kateri was orphaned at the age of four after her parents died from smallpox. She was taken into her uncle’s home and raised in the tribe, and was taught the Catholic faith. In 1676, she was baptized into the faith and dedicated her life to evangelizing Indigenous Americans. St. Kateri died at the age of 24. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonzied by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 .

The life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha has inspired many, including leaders of the Catholic Native Ministry of our archdiocese. Unfortunately, four of the cornerstones of the ministry have passed away in the last year. Still, their legacy of sharing their culture and faith will continue to impact Alaska Native Catholics.

Sophie Lee was the daughter of Francis and Anna Lee. Her father, Francis, served as a catechist and translator for the priests at the Akulurak Mission in the 1920s. In the 1970s, Sophie moved to Emmonak, where she became a parish leader. She led a rosary group, sang Yup’ik hymns in the choir and taught religious education. Sophie also attended numerous workshops sponsored by the Native Ministry Training Program and was a rich resource on Yup’ik tradition and spirituality.

Patrick Tam, who served as a Jesuit volunteer in Emmonak in the 1980s, said, “I could find no better mentor than Sophie to help me navigate my way in Yup’ik culture. Over tea, homemade bread, and dry fish, she displayed the depth of her faith and her thought. She wrestled with deep theological questions in trying to bridge the distance between Yup’ik tradition and Catholic teaching.”

Sophie moved to Anchorage in the late ‘90s and made it her home until her death earlier this year.

Marie Tyson was born in St. Michael in 1930 and later moved to Akulurak Mission at the age of 12. It was there that she met her husband William, and they married in 1948. William was one of the first deacons ordained when the permanent deacon program began in the ‘70s. The Tysons later moved to Anchorage and were active in ministry at the Native hospital and prison ministry. They also shared their culture and stories with local students and people abroad.

Patrick Tam said, “As the wife of a deacon, Marie shared a deep sense of being a servant, especially to those most in need. And like her husband William, she was rooted both in her Yup’ik culture and her Catholic faith. Both sources fed her love of God and love of neighbor.”

Barbara Shetter had a passion for ministry, fishing and camping. Born in New Hamilton, Alaska, she faced challenges as a child, losing her parents, grandparents, and 14 siblings to tuberculosis. She survived the disease and grew in faith while attending St. Mary’s Mission. After high school, Barbara became a member of the Little Sisters of the Snow and the Alaska Native Ministry Kateri Circle. Through her involvement in the ministry, she was inspired by her pastor to attend Alaska Pacific University. “Barbara was devoted to her family; she especially loved her grandchildren and children. She had an infectious smile that made you smile back,” said Theresa Mike.

Rosanna “Sis” Troseth was born in Akiak in 1927 and graduated from Akiak Territorial School. She had five children with her husband, Robert, who died in a plane crash in 1954. She later married Roy in 1956 and together they had six sons. Rosanna enjoyed sharing her faith with her family and through the Kateri Circle, as well as sharing about her culture. She wrote multiple books sharing her experience growing up in Western Alaska.

'In the footsteps of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Catholic Native Ministry matriarchs shared their culture and faith to evangelize'
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