Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will soon become the first Native American saint, and local Catholics are rejoicing.

Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree recognizing the miracle needed for her canonization - her intercession saved a Washington child who suffered from a flesh-eating facial disease - in mid-December.

The Vatican will hold a formal ceremony before setting a date for the canonization.

"We've been waiting for this for a long time," said Friar Mark Steed, OFM Conv., director of the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda. He said pilgrims to the shrine - especially Native Americans - have delighted in the news.

Since Blessed Kateri's beatification in 1980, rumors of her advancement to sainthood have come and gone, Friar Steed said. Now that it's official, the shrine's buildings need updating and painting to accommodate the expected extra pilgrims.

"We will spruce up the place as best we can," the director promised. "We're hoping to have more visitors next year."

The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville also expects more pilgrims in the coming year and a more "fervent" celebration of Blessed Kateri's feast day in July, said Beth Lynch, museums and event coordinator at the shrine.

For years, pilgrims have attended a weekly Mass in a chapel named for her to pray for the Mohawk maiden's canonization; they also venerate her relics in both shrines.

The news is "a validation, really, of the hundreds of thousands of people around the country and around the world who have venerated Kateri and have known in their hearts that she should be a saint," Ms. Lynch said. "It's a wonderful recognition. In God's time, these things happen."

Blessed Kateri was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in Auriesville in the 17th century. She was drawn to Jesuit missionaries and Christian converts, despite being raised by an anti-Christian uncle.

She began studying Catholicism in secret at the age of 18 and was baptized at the age of 20 in Fonda before moving to Canada to escape religious persecution.

The future saint was known for her great love for the Eucharist and sexual purity: She had no interest in marrying, Ms. Lynch said; "somehow, she knew she was being called to something different. Even though she didn't know what a consecrated virgin was, she knew she was one. These are all things that we can look to today, especially young people."

During her time in Canada, Blessed Kateri taught prayers to children, worked with the elderly and sick and did farming and crafts for trade. She often attended Mass both at dawn and sunset.

Upon her death at the age of 24, the smallpox scars on her face are said to have suddenly disappeared.