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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

July 28, 2009

St. Maria Goretti and Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Maria Goretti and Bl. Kateri Tekawitha together lived a total of 35 years. Their courages examples will no doubt live on forever. Each saint is honored in the month of July.

Maria Goretti was born in 1890 in the village of Corinaldo, near Ancona, Italy. Her family was poor. When she was nine years old, Maria's father died while her mother was pregnanat with the family's sixth child. In order to survive they had to migrate as tenant farmers. Traveling with the Goretti's was a family friend, Serenelli, and his fourteen-year-old son Alesssandro, whose mother had also died.

The two families came to share living spaced in an old barn divided into separate quarters. A statue of the Blessed Virgin was placed in the common area in the center. At age 12, Maria's job was to care for the younger children while the others worked in the fields. She didn't know how to read or write, but she had been taught the Gospels and the Catechism.

Alessandro became sexually attracted to Maria. He threatened her with his advances, telling her he would kill her if she told anyone about them. One day he came in early from the fields and told Maria to come inside the house from the upstairs landing where she was sewing a shirt. Maria refused. Alessandro grabbed Maria and dragged her into the kitchen area. Covering herself, she told him he would go to Hell for what he was about to do. Alessandro took a sharpened knife and stabbed Maria fourteen times.

She survived for about 24 hours. During that time she forgave Alessandro. "I want him to be with me in Heaven," she said.

For the murder of Maria, Alessandro was sentenced to thirty years in prison. There, he had a vision of Maria handing him flowers. His heart was changed. The first thing he did when he was released was to visit Maria's mother and beg for her forgiveness. When Pope Pius XII canonized Maria in 1950, Alessandro was at St. Peter's Square in attendance. Her feast day is on July 6.

Kateri Tekawitha was born in 1656 in an area which is now upstate Nw York. Her father was a Mohawk chieftain who had married her mother, Kahenta, an Algonquin, during the conequest of her tribe. What her father didn't know was that Kahenta was a Christian. She had been converted by the Jesuits and secretly prayed with a white Christian captive.

Kateri's entire family died of smallpox when she was only four years old. The disease left Kateri's faced pocked, her eyesight poor, and her legs weakened. In a culture where marriage was a prime goal for a woman, Kateri was shunned by her people because of her appearance. She was treated harshly and forced to do much of the menial labor for the tribe.

When her tribe allowed the Jesuit missionaries to preach to them, Kateri was attracted to the Gospel and was baptized. (Kateri means "Catherine.) Finally she was able to escape to Canada where she spent her last years helping the sick and elderly and living with other Catholics. She died at the age of 23.

In a society and culture obsessed with outward bodily appearance and sex outside of marriage, Maria Goretti and Kateri Tekawitha represent the importance of inner beauty and moral decision-making. As St. Paul wrote, "The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the the Lord is for the body" (1 Cor 6:13).

As teens grow in their sexuality, they should be reminded that sexuality is a gift from God, that God gives them the powerful feelings that attract them to other people. Also, God gives us the self-control to be able to act on the choices that are right. Remind teens that our bodies are God's gift to us. They are meant to give glory to God, not to bring shame.

Additional Lessons
  • Present a lesson on chastity, drawing on the material in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2331-2359.
  • Assign 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 for reading. Ask the students to consider how the description of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit might affect the choices they make regarding their sexuality.
  • Have the students prepare and enact role-plays that express attitudes of respect and care for their bodies and the bodies of others.
Discussion Questions
  1. When was a time you feared for your life or physical safety? How was the situation resolved?
  2. How important is physical and outward appearance to people in your peer group?
  3. St. Paul wrote that the body is a "temple of the Holy Spirit." What does this mean to you?

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