The Vatican has officially deemed as a miracle an American boy’s stunning recovery from a severe battle with a flesh-eating bacterial infection that nearly killed him in 2006. And the miracle is attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha who, if canonized, will become the Catholic Church’s first Native American saint.
On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI decided that the recovery of Jake Finkbonne, a Washington boy of Native American (Lummi) descent, is a miracle beyond the explanation of medicine. The pope attributed this to the Blessed Kateri, who was born in 1656. By signing a decree authenticating the miracle, the pope cleared the way for Tekakwitha to be canonized.
“There is no doubt in me or my husband’s mind that a miracle definitely took place,” msnbc.com quoted Jake’s mother as saying. “There were far too many things that could have and should have gone wrong with his illness. It’s a miracle that all of the other things that could have gone wrong, didn’t.” Jake’s parents and his entire family are devout Catholics.
Apparently, doctors also agree. Both the doctors who treated Jake and the Vatican’s committee of doctors concluded that the 11-year old boy should have died, says Monsignor Paul A. Lenz, the vice postulator for the cause of the Blessed Kateri, in a report of the news consortium Catholic Online.
“They didn’t think any of their medical expertise was the cure,” Lenz explained. “They thought every night he was going to die.”
Face-off with death
Jake’s ordeal began in February 2006 when he fell, bumped and cut his mouth slightly against the base of a portable basketball hoop in the closing moments of a basketball game.
Lying in wait on the surface of that base was Strep A bacteria, which sometimes causes a tissue-destroying disease known as necrotizing fasciitis, a very rare condition commonly known as a flesh-eating infection.
Within a few days Jake was brought to the Children’s Hospital in Seattle, fighting for his life as the aggressive bacteria destroyed the flesh of his cheeks, eyelids, neck and chest.
For nine days, doctors worked frantically to stop the infection’s spread, surgically removing damaged flesh every day. Several times, doctors prepared the family for what they believed to be the boy’s inevitable death.
Because the Finkbonners are of native Lummi descent, longtime family friend Reverend Tim Sauer advised Jake’s parents to pray to Blessed Kateri, patroness of American Indians, for her intercession.
On the ninth day, a relic of Tekakwitha was brought to the hospital from the national office of the Tekakwitha Conference, a Catholic Native American religious organization in Great Falls, Montana. The relic was placed on a pillow next to Jake’s head.
On that day, Jake suddenly and unexpectedly took a turn for the better. “His vital signs began to make an unaccountable improvement,” the priest said.
Soon after Jake’s stunning recovery, Rev. Sauer sent a letter to Seattle’s archbishop detailing the possible miracle.
The Vatican sent a panel, including a doctor and a church lawyer, to Washington to investigate the claims. The panel asked community members if they had indeed prayed for the intercession of Tekakwitha. It also interviewed doctors.
The panel’s findings were sent to the Congregation for Causes of Saints, a committee of cardinals and bishops in Rome who review all the testimonies that lead to the canonization of saints. Following their review, the committee presented Jake’s case to Pope Benedict XVI who formally recognized the miracle attributed to Tekakwitha.
Native American saint
Known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in upstate New York to a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin mother. When smallpox struck her community, both her parents were killed and she was left partially blind. Her face was disfigured.
After being convinced by several priests, Tekakwitha converted to Catholicism. Shunned by her tribe, she devoted herself to a life of deep prayer. In 1680, at age 24, she died.
Witnesses claimed that within minutes of her death, the scars from smallpox vanished completely and her disfigured face suddenly shone with radiant beauty, according to Catholic Church reports.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II beatified Tekakwitha, making her the first Native American to be declared “blessed” — a step below sainthood.
Before a beatified person becomes a saint, proof of two miracles must be attributed to him or her, one before beatification and another after. But Pope John Paul II waived the first miracle condition in order to beatify Tekakwitha in 1980, the Albany Times Union reports.
It’s not known yet when and where Tekakwitha’s canonization ceremony will be held. But when it is, the Finkbonners will be invited, msnbc.com reports.
According to the news site, Jake, now a sixth-grader at Assumption Catholic School in Bellingham was excited by the news and the opportunity to attend the ceremony.
“In my heart, in all of us, we’ve always found that Jake’s recovery, his healing and his survival truly was a miracle. As far as Blessed Kateri becoming a saint, it’s honorable to be a part of that process,” Elsa Finkbonner said.
American Indian Catholics are also celebrating the Blessed Kateri’s canonization. “It’s been a long time coming for the Indians across the country. A lot of people are happy today … It’s something that we’ve all been waiting for,” Henry Cagey, a former Lummi tribal chairman now active at St. Joachim Catholic Church found on the Lummi Reservation told the msnbc.com.