Students at an Ottawa elementary school will be getting a full-day pass from the regular classroom in order to go to school on sainthood when Kateri Tekakwitha is canonized. 

On Oct. 22, the day after Kateri is made a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Elementary School students will put away their math books and readers to spend the whole day studying St. Kateri and the process of canonization. They’ll watch videos from the Oct. 21 ceremony in Rome, hear about the school’s connection to Kateri and learn about her extraordi­nary life and culture from former teacher Line Douglas. 

“She lived her faith and was devoted to others, caring for the elderly and the infirm while the others went about their business in the spirit of love and simplic­ity,” said Douglas, 70, explaining what she’ll tell the students. “She was so intense and so devoted. She was in love with the sublime, with God and did everything in such an admirable, straightforward, pure way.” 

The day of learning is part of a two-month school celebration that will culminate when the school is renamed Saint Kateri Tekak­witha in late November. Similar renaming ceremonies will also occur at Blessed Kateri Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton, Ont., Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic School in Toronto and Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Ele­mentary School in Markham, Ont. 

But the Ottawa school is taking things a step further. 

“We’ve got multiple events,” said principal Paul Gautreau. “We’re using it as an opportunity for our kids to learn about Kateri and learn about what is a saint.” 

The program started after the Thanksgiving long weekend when the student body, about 200 strong, were asked daily questions about Kateri, he said. 

“We really want students’ voices to come through. We aren’t neces­sarily looking for the right answer, we want to know what they know as a starting point.” 

Douglas, a descendent of the Mohawk nation, began teaching at Blessed Kateri in 1986 when the school opened. She retired in 1998. During her tenure at the school, Douglas worked hard to teach her students about Kateri’s devotion, dedication to faith despite social oppression and love of nature. 

“I hoped that she rubbed off on me,” said Douglas. “I just love Kateri. I have a devotion to her.” 

In the month leading up to the renaming of the school, a member of the Mohawk nation will frequent the Ottawa school to deepen the children’s knowledge of Kateri. They’ll study native culture and the challenges Kateri faced practising her faith in a 17th-century native culture.

They’ll also learn native drumming, which they will perform during the Nov. 29 renaming ceremony where tra­ditional aboriginal refreshments and snacks will be served. 

“Part of the reason for (the Nov. 29 date) is that many of people who we are going to ask to come here will actually be in Rome for the canonization,” said Gautreau. 

Those who will be in Rome include Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, a Mohawk leader and an Algonquin leader who once owned the land the school is located on. 

Gautreau said he hopes the lessons continue after the school is renamed because he feels there is a lot his students can learn about their faith from Kateri. 

“I hope that these celebra­tions will provide a little spark that will help things to just keep moving forward,” he said. “She was extremely faithful in chal­lenging circumstances in that she renewed her faith in those chal­lenging circumstances. That’s a message we can hopefully bring to the students.”

Published in St. Kateri Tekakwitha