Catholics Crowdsource in Hopes of Rescuing Alleged St. Kateri Relic
Catholic faithful are banding together to help rescue a possible relic of St. Kateri Tekawitha in a strange — and thoroughly modern — way: by using a crowdsourcing Internet forum.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Catholic faithful are banding together to help rescue a possible relic of St. Kateri Tekawitha in a strange — and thoroughly modern — way: by using a crowdsourcing Internet forum.
“It’s my first GoFundMe [project],” said Bill Jacobs, co-founder and president of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center.
Speaking to CNA about the center’s “Rescue Saint Kateri Reliquary!” campaign, he explained, “Our hope is to raise enough money and get it back into the hands of the Church.”
St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 as part of the Iroquois confederacy in what is now upstate New York and southern Canada. After converting to Catholicism at age 19 and dying at age 24, she was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. She is the first Native-American saint to be canonized and is the patron saint of ecology and the environment, people in exile and Native Americans.
Jacobs said that the center was alerted to the sale of a reliquary — or special container holding a relic of the saint — through a discussion on Facebook, where users pointed to instances of relics and reliquaries that were being sold on the Internet. According to the Code of Canon Law, it is “absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics,” although they may be transferred with permission from the Apostolic See.
Through the conversation, Jacobs was alerted of a holder who had come into possession of a reliquary containing what appears to be a first-class relic, coming from a bone of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, nearly 4 inches long.
The item also has accompanying paperwork and seals that appear to verify the authenticity of the relic inside. “I checked out the names and the dates of the certificates for who was the archbishop at the time, and they all check out,” Jacobs said.
The current holder of the reliquary came across it when a religious order moved away and a number of their possessions were auctioned off together as a group. The thought of the reliquary and relic inside facing another auction pains Jacobs. “As a Catholic and as someone who loves St. Kateri — she’s the patron saint of our organization — I just couldn’t see it going up at another auction.”
To help return the relic to the Church and make it available for popular devotion, Jacobs began a fundraiser to recover the funds that the current holder spent when the reliquary was obtained. The current holder has agreed not to make a profit but wants to cover the cost for the reliquary itself. The total cost of the reliquary is listed on the crowdfunding site as $3,675.
While it is forbidden to buy and sell relics, the “Code of Canon Law does not say anything about buying or selling reliquaries,” explained Jeannine Marino, assistant director for the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
While it is not common, she could not imagine that the Holy See would be opposed to the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center’s efforts to recover the relic and reliquary, although she commented, “I do think, though, that the Holy See would want to verify its authenticity before returning it to public use.”
“Even with statements of authenticity,” she continued, “I still think the Holy See, through the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, would want to verify the authenticity,” particularly of what could be a first-class relic.
Such a case as Jacobs’ attempt to rescue the relic is unique, Marino emphasized. “I have never heard of a case like this.”
The fundraiser to purchase the reliquary acknowledges the rarity of the situation as well as the delicate measures that must be taken to recover the relic in a respectful manner. “The relic inside is priceless and would be acquired as a gift,” Jacobs clarified on the fundraiser page. “Our goal,” the fundraiser continues, “is to protect this sacred relic from desecration and profanation.”
After the rescue of the relic and its return to the Church, Jacobs insists on the crowdfunding page that the “relic will never again appear on the market.”
While it is still unclear where St. Kateri’s relic would go after being rescued, Jacobs says he hopes to place the relic in a church or shrine to the saint, where it can be publicly venerated and remain safe.
“We want to get it back to the Church where it can be properly respected and taken care of, hopefully somewhere near where St. Kateri lived in upstate New York.”