CATALDO, Idaho - Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Mohawk-Algonquin woman whose canonization is pending, has received considerable attention. Not so generally known but perhaps as notable, is a Coeur d'Alene woman named Louise Siuwheem Polotkin.

A mother of three, she lived a life of Christian love, charity and zeal, touching people both in and out of her family.

The missionary Jesuit Father Pierre De Smet first met the Coeur d'Alenes in 1841, when they were returning from a buffalo hunt. The people sent him an earnest invitation to visit. Six months later, in spring 1842, he was able to do so and baptized all the little children and some adults including the woman to whom he gave the name Louise. She was a chief's daughter and descendant of Chief Circling Raven, who had a vision of black-garbed messengers who would bring a new religion.

Louise embraced the faith with fervor. She and her family followed the missionaries to the first site near St. Maries and then to the present site of Sacred Heart Mission at Cataldo, Idaho. Father De Smet wrote her biography with unstinting praise. She chose to live in poverty, seeking no help from others. She was determined to spread the faith and fought backsliding without hesitation.

Meeting the medicine-men head on, she entered their lodges seeking to teach them about Christianity. Her efforts were crowned by the conversion of Natatken who took the name Isidore and remained faithful until death. Strikingly, the male leaders accepted her and her messages.

She became the head catechist for the tribe while remaining a good wife and mother, finding time for the practices of devotion. Her care of the young won her the tribal title of 'good grandmother.' For the sick she was nurse; for orphans, a foster mother. Her lodge was placed near the church. Her devotion to the cross was such that she planted her grain in cross-shaped plots.

Jesuit Father Gregory Gazzoli, her spiritual director, called Louise his interpreter, assistant for the ignorant, spiritual directress and guardian angel for the whole tribe.

On her death bed in 1853, she asked those present to sing the hymn for the souls in Purgatory, joined in herself, and died quietly during the singing.

The construction of the new and still standing mission church of the Sacred Heart was then taking place - the Cataldo Mission. It is the oldest standing building in Idaho, built without nails.

Local Catholics can make a pilgrimage to the site of Louise's death.

Her husband, Adolph Polotkin, himself an invalid, remained at the lodge for the rest of his life.

The Coeur d'Alenes refer to Louise as their apostle.

- George Thomas Brown

St. Paul Mission

Historical Society