recovery from flesh-eating bacteria could lead to American Indian saint
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
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
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
Parishioners also were urged to ask Blessed Kateri for her help.
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
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
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.
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
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."
of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha by Debora Coombs