By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
St. Cecilia's Church parishioner Ann Mahon has lived in Fonda for most of her life, and from the time she was a little girl, Kateri Tekakwitha was a part of her upbringing.
Kateri had spent an important part of her life in Fonda, as it was there that she came to learn about the Christian faith from a Jesuit missionary.
It was also there that Kateri was baptized.
The location is now the site of the National Kateri Shrine.
Mahon said she would often go to the shrine for Mass on the weekends, but that wasn't her only connection to the soon-to-be saint.
"My mother ran the religious gift shop (at the Martyr Shrine in Auriesville) from the time I was 11 and then my sister took over," Mahon said, adding that her mother had been honored by the Tekakwitha League for her work. "I worked there many, many summers and was there through many, many years."
And throughout that time, Mahon developed a "great devotion" to Kateri.
That's why she will be making the long trip to Rome, along with many other members of the Albany Diocese, to be present in Vatican Square Oct. 21 for Kateri's canonization.
"It's just a wonderful event," she said. "It's something that many, many years ago, I don't think most people thought it would really take place, that she (would be canonized). It's a real blessing and to be able to take part in this is a dream."
What most strikes Mahon was what Kateri stood for.
A young Native American woman who had been orphaned, Kateri was strong to stand up for her faith, rebelling, in a sense, against her family, Mahon explained.
"It's an important part of holding your faith and living up to what you think is right," she said. "She's an inspiration."
Over in Amsterdam, St. Mary's Church parishioner John Czelusniak is looking forward to his family trip to Rome.
Czelusniak will travel to Rome for Kateri's canonization with his brother, Fr. Don Czelusniak from the Church of the Holy Spirit in Gloversville, his sisters Gwen Raczynski and Debbie Kreiger, and his brother-in-law Jim Kreiger.
John Czelusniak has been going to Kateri's shrine since he was a child, he said.
It was the place his parents brought him after he made his first communion.
It was the site of many fond memories for him.
"It's a very peaceful place," he said. "I'm very comfortable there."
He had always been drawn to Kateri -- he always held his prayers with her -- and he was amazed when he found out she would be canonized.
"She's my neighbor and I've got to be there for her," he said. "She's my neighbor and friend."
And since he began preparing for the trip, he also has drawn a close connection to Mother Marianne Cope, the Utica woman who will also be canonized that day with Kateri.
Though from different eras, both women were from the Mohawk Valley, he said, and to be present in Vatican Square "will be something."
For John Bartyzel, it was his wife, Frances, who suggested they fly to Rome for the special day.
"That's when she told me the story of her (Kateri) being canonized," he said.
Like Czelusniak and Mahon, Bartyzel will join many other Catholics from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany for the pilgrimage.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "You don't often get this chance. It's once in a lifetime, once in a millennium."
He has been reading about local Native American history for a handful of years, and the piece of Kateri that sticks out for him most is knowing that she was a young Native American who had to go through so much.
His hope is that while he stands in Vatican Square for the canonization, others here in Montgomery County will go to her shrine, as well as the martyr shrine, to participate in the local celebration.
"I think its just amazing to have this happen to our community," he said. "I know their going to have a lot of things here going on, but to be right in Rome at the time, standing in the square in front of the Pope, it just sends goosebumps up me."
The diocesean group will be on their pilgrimage for eight days total, spending time in other special areas around room, and even Assisi.
As Ann Mahon began thinking about what this whole celebration meant for her, she recalled that Kateri's power hit home many years ago, when her aunt was awaiting a risky surgery to remove a brain tumor.
Before Mahon and her husband, John, arrived, the relic of Kateri had been applied to her aunt, and just before the surgery was about to take place, the hospital did one more scan only to find that the tumor miraculously no longer posed a threat, Mahon said.
Her aunt no longer needed surgery and lived for many more years.
"I truly believe that Kateri is very powerful," Mahon said. "It will be my privilege to make a pilgrimage in her honor."