On Sunday, October 21, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will be canonized at the Vatican as the first American Indian saint in the Catholic Church. Jake Finkbonner, who is of Lummi tribal descent, and his family–mom Elsa, dad Donny, sisters Miranda and Malia–are traveling from their Ferndale, Washington home to Rome for the ceremony.
As ICTMN reported in January, six years ago Jake was playing basketball at a Boys & Girls Club when he fell and bumped his mouth against the base of a portable basketball hoop. As reported by James Eng of MSNBC.com, the surface of the base of the hoop contained Strep A bacteria, which causes a tissue-destroying disease called necrotizing fascitis. This extremely rare condition goes by another name—flesh-eating bacteria.
Jake was hospitalized for months. He underwent several surgeries as he fought for his life.
“They had taken him apart. There was nothing to see of Jake’s face except his nose and chin. Everything else on his head was completely covered in bandages,” his mother told MSNBC.com. Doctors told Elsa and her husband, Don, that the outlook was grim.
The doctors told the Finkbonners that now was the time to pray. A priest, and family friend, Fr. Tim Sauer, was called in to administer last rites. “When I was called to the hospital it was basically to help the family prepare to say goodbye and let go. His probability of survival at that point was very slender,” Sauer told MSNBC.com.
The Finkbonners, who are devout Catholics, were urged by Sauer to pray for the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to intercede on Jake’s behalf. The Finkbonners were joined by family and friends who prayed for Jake’s recovery. Tekakwitha was a Mohawk-Algonquin woman born in 1656 who was disfigured by smallpox when she was four years old.
After multiple surgeries to remove the necrotic flesh, Jake took an unexpected, and glorious, turn for the better on the ninth day of his hospitalization. This was the same day that a relic of the Tekakwitha was brought to the hospital from the national office of the Tekakwitha Conference, a Catholic Native American religious organization in Great Falls, Montana. Jake’s vital signs began improving on that day, with the relic lying on the pillow next to his head.
Today, Jake is healthy and excited for this trip, during which he and his family will meet Pope Benedict XVI and be honored, which will include receiving Holy Communion from the Pope at the October 21 Mass.
In December, the Vatican announced that Jake’s recovery was a miracle that was beyond the explanation of medicine and one that could be attributed to the intercession on his behalf by Blessed Kateri.
To his family, there was no question that a miracle occurred, because, one day and without explanation, the disease’s progression just stopped, Elsa said.
“We’ve always known that Jake’s survival is a miracle, simply because of everything that we witnessed him go through,” she told The News Tribune.