St. Kateri Tekakwitha Was NOT a Consecrated Virgin

by Therese Ivers, JCL

For some reason, a lot of people have been listing St. Kateri as a consecrated virgin.  flowerAlthough a virgin, St. Kateri was never a consecrated virgin.  St. Kateri – like many other lay virgin saints – was a laywoman under private vows.  She had wanted to join a convent but the Jesuits did not think that this was appropriate given the cultural influences at the time.  Instead, she is said to have made private vow(s) of virginity, and possibly poverty and obedience.  A private vow does not constitute a woman as a consecrated virgin.  Only the Rite of Consecration of Virgins done by the bishop (or Benedictine Abbot for Benedictine nuns) transforms the woman into a consecrated virgin.  Yes, Kateri was a virgin, but she lived and died as a virgin laywoman, privately dedicated to Christ.

Other famous virgins who were not consecrated virgins include:  St. Gemma Galgani, St. Rose of Lima, St. Maria Goretti, and St. Catherine of Siena.  St. Catherine was a laywoman, and became a Doctor of the Church.  Not one of these beautiful, heroic souls had received the consecration of virgins or been admitted to the consecrated state through vows in religious life.

It should be emphasized that these devout laywomen are models for living out our shared baptismal commitment without receiving the grace of consecration.  We do not know if St. Gemma, St. Rose, and St. Catherine or St. Kateri would have received the consecration of virgins had it been available to them at the time.  St. Maria Goretti is considered a virgin saint because she died as a virgin protecting her purity from an attacker.  We do not know if she would have chosen a life of virginity had she survived.

St. Kateri is a model for the many women who want to completely dedicate their lives to Christ but who for one reason or another, was not called to consecrated life.  Her virtuous life shows how a woman can fully live her baptismal vocation to holiness without adding an additional consecration either of marriage or of consecrated life.  The Church is full of a variety of saints, and St. Kateri is an inspiration for those who desired religious life but could not enter and instead privately dedicate their lives to Christ as laypersons.  We need to recognize St. Kateri for who she was- a privately vowed laywoman who fulfilled the call to holiness in her lay state.  She was not a consecrated virgin and we should not claim that she was one even if her life visibly looked like a consecrated virgin’s.

(c) 2014 by Therese Ivers, JCL

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3 Responses to St. Kateri Tekakwitha Was NOT a Consecrated Virgin

  1. mysteriumfidai says:

    I think the confusion comes from the USA-CV (the USA Association of Consecrated Virgins – http://consecratedvirgins.org) They have one of their patrons as St Kateri, who was well known to be a virgin. However some of their exhibitions and literature say confusing things like ‘she consecrated herself to Christ’ or that she was consecrated by the priests who went to her country, or even the fact that the USACV are an association for Consecrated Virgins, and refer to St Kateri as a ‘Virgin’ without making clear she was not consecrated. For a layperson who is not familiar with a) a person cannot ‘consecrate themselves’ in a vocational sense b) a priest cannot consecrate a virgin c) there is a difference between a privately vowed virgin and a consecrated virgin d) only a virgin who has received the consecration of virgins is a consecrated virgin – these things would cause great confusion. In fact I think some of the USACV who prepare these materials are not clear on the above points themselves otherwise they would not release such information without clarifying these issues. As the USACV is internationally regarded as THE source for this vocation among many English speaking discerners with no theological background, you can see how such errors spread.

  2. Christine Murray says:

    I will speak of the case of which I am most familiar, which is St. Kateri. If the only thing that changed in her life was that the consecration of virgins was available, would she have received the consecration? The answer is no. A reader might wonder why I am so definitive about this. The reason is simple: The Jesuits who recorded her biography have no record of her confirmation. The bishop lived in Quebec City and had a vast territory to travel either on foot or via canoe. The mission where Kateri resided was near Montreal. There is no record of the bishop visiting the mission while Kateri lived there. She never saw her bishop. Therefore, there is no way she would have been a consecrated virgin, even if it had existed and she desired it. The information about the lack of record of her Confirmation is from “Katherine Tekakwitha: Lily of the Mohawks” by Fordham University Press (the published positio on her cause translated into English).

  3. Therese Ivers, JCL says:

    Christine Murray, I agree. I’d add that the consecration of virgins did exist during St. Kateri’s time and it was in the same book that bishops used for ceremonies such as confirmations and ordinations. Thus, all Latin bishops were theoretically able to consecrate as they all possessed the Roman Pontifical. But, no bishop would use that ritual in a mission territory when the consecration was – at the time – traditionally only given to seasoned nuns at least 5 – 10 years after their final profession. Further, at the time, it was considered gravely sinful to tamper with the text and rubrics of the liturgical rites, and the consecration ritual would have had to have been tinkered with in order to avoid the parts that were proper to cloistered nuns. And, of course, no bishop in his right mind would give the consecration to someone who was not confirmed or was being confirmed unless it was a case of grave danger of death due to disease (or persecution which was not the case when she settled in the Christian mission).

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