Native Village
Youth and Education news
December 2009  Volume 1

Boy's recovery from flesh-eating bacteria could lead to American Indian saint canonization
Condensed by Native Village

Washington - Jake Finkbonner's face was scarred by a flesh-eating bacteria that invaded his body. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's face was scarred by smallpox that killed her immediate family.

They are both American Indians and both Catholics.

And if the Vatican decrees that Jake Finkbonner's survival is a miracle because of Blessed Kateri's help, she may be cannonized as the first American Indian saint in the Catholic Church.

Elsa Finkbonner believes her 9-year-old son's victory over necrotizing fasciitis is miraculous.  "There is no doubt in my mind that he is a miracle. He had everything going against him. There was a whole grocery list of things that should have happened against him, and he defied all of them," Jake's mom said.

Blessed Kateri was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and Mohawk father in today's Auriesville, N.Y. When she was 4, smallpox killed her parents and her brother, scarred her face and damaged her eyesight.

Kateri was baptized into the Catholic faith in 1676. In 1679, she took a vow of chastity. When she died on April 17, 1680, eyewitnesses claim that her scars soon  disappeared.

Known as the Lily of the Mohawks, Kateri was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. She was the first American Indian to be so honored.

More than 300 years after her death, Jake was fighting for his life. Necrotizing fasciitis, or Strep A, had invaded his body and bloodstream through a small cut.  Jake was admitted into Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.  Every day, doctors performed surgery to remove the flesh damaged by the bacteria spreading across Jake's face, scalp and chest.  For two weeks, they put the boy, who was then in kindergarten, in a hyperbaric chamber to deliver oxygen to his body to slow down the infection/

As Jake laid near death, the Rev. Tim Sauer advised Jake's parents to pray to Blessed Kateri, the patroness for American Indians, to intercede. That is akin to asking Blessed Kateri to pray to God to perform a miracle on Jake's behalf. The boy is of Lummi descent.

Sauer was pastor of St. Joseph in Ferndale, where Jake was baptized and where the deeply faithful Finkbonners attend services. Parishioners also were urged to ask Blessed Kateri for her help.

Jake spent nine weeks in the hospital, and Sauer spent much time with the Finkbonners during those terrible days. Several times the doctors prepared the family for Jake's death.

But Jake survived, though he bears the scars on his face, neck, scalp and chest. He has had 27 surgeries, and more are on the way

Months after Jake recovered in 2006, Sauer sent a letter to the Archbishop in Seattle about a possible miraculous occurrence. "Basically, I just put it in their hands," he said. "His survival ... was an extraordinary event."

Investigators from the Catholic Church have interviewed the priest, Jake's family and others who prayed for Kateri's intercession. Sauer isn't allowed to say much about it -- the Catholic Church keeps the process confidential. But Sauer did say the investigation is complete and the information sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.

Blessed Kateri needs proof of one more miracle to be declared a saint. Another miracle was submitted a couple years ago. Neither Finkbonner nor Sauer know when the Vatican will make that decision.

If Kateri
Tekakwitha is declared a saint, it means she is among those who stand before the presence of God and who serve as examples for Catholics..

"They're the heroes, if you will, of the church and its history, for us to look up to and emulate. They are people who lived their Christian faith in an exemplary way, which is what a saint is, that ought to be mediated on and imitated," Sauer said. "We do not worship them. They do not replace God or Jesus."

No matter the decision, the Finkbonners said they already have their answer. "Whether they attribute his healing to Blessed Kateri or not, that's up to the church, that's up to the Vatican," Elsa Finkbonner said. "But it doesn't take anybody to tell [my husband] and I what happened to him was, in fact, a miracle.

Kateri artwork:

Portrait of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha by Debora Coombs

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