The epidemic killed her parents and left her an orphan, after which she was adopted by the chief of a neighbouring clan.
She devoted her brief adult life to helping the old and infirm and teaching the Gospel to American Indian children.
She was forced to flee to an American Indian Christian community in Quebec, where she took a vow of chastity and devoted her life to prayer and penance.
She died in Canada in 1680 at the age of 24, uttering the last words “Jesus, I love you” in her native language.
Her smallpox scars are said to have miraculously disappeared a few moments after her death. Her first name is an adaptation of Catherine, in honour of St Catherine of Assisi, while her surname means “the one who puts things in order”.
In June 1980 she became the first indigenous person from North America to be beatified, by Pope John Paul II.
His successor, Benedict XVI, issued a decree this week saying that Tekakwitha will be among seven new saints to be canonised by the Vatican, with the ceremony expected to take place next year.
Benedict decreed that the curing of a six-year-old American Indian boy of a flesh-eating virus in 2006 was a miracle directly attributable to Tekakwitha, more than 330 years after her death.
The boy, from Washington State, was reportedly cured of the disease after a Catholic nun placed a preserved fragment of Tekakwitha’s wrist bone on his body.
Tekakwitha, who took a vow of chastity as a young woman, is the official patron of American Indians, and has been called the “Pocahontas of the Catholic Church” by Italian media.
She is also, along with St Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron of ecology and the environment.