First American Indian on Track Toward Sainthood

I recently came across the story of Jake Finkbonner who was near death for months with a flesh eating bacteria, but made a miraculous recovery that the Vatican credited to The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, marking the second miracle  for the 17th century Mohawk-Algonquin woman and clearing the way for her to become North America’s first Native American saint.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Because of this Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree Monday approving the miracle attribute to the intercession of the woman, and she could be canonized as soon as February. The Vatican said it believes that the prayers Finkbonner’s family directed to Tekakwitha were responsible for bringing the boy back from the brink of death.

Finkbonner cut his lip during the last minute of a Boys & Girls Club basketball game in 2006.

“I was running down court with the ball, I stopped in front of the hoop to shoot when I was pushed from behind,” Jake wrote on his website. “I flew forward and hit my mouth on the base of the portable basketball hoop.”

Two days later, he wrote,  he was in the hospital with a strep bacteria infection that had spread across his face, head and chest.

“It’s a bacteria that can cause severe infections in unusual circumstances but most of us don’t ever have any problems with it,” said Dr. Christopher Ohl,  a doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical. “But if all of the circumstances come together and the setting is just right, it can get in through the skin and cause a severe infection.”

Ohl said the chance of survival for people with the bacteria is roughly 50-50.

At the urging of the family’s priest, the Finkbonners began praying to Tekakwitha, who converted to Christianity when she was 18 and became a fervent follower. Her face was scarred by smallpox as a child, but it is claimed that the scars disappeared after she died in 1680 at the age of 24.

“It’s unexplainable as to why he lived,” Jake’s mother, Elsa Finkbonner, told ABC affiliate KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Jake wrote that he has gone through 29 surgeries since he contracted the flesh-eating bacteria and said his experience has made him want to become a doctor.

“Makes me feel like I’m doing something for God, bringing more people back into his community,” he told KOMO-TV.

Historian Allan Greer from McGill University in Montreal said Tekakwitha has long been considered an unofficial saint by her supporters in the Americas and in parts of Europe.

“It’s very important for many indigenous Catholic people to have a saint that is their saint,” said Greer, who wrote the book Mohawk Saint: Catherine and the Jesuits.

Tekakwitha was known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Tekakwitha’s canonization ceremony has not yet been set because an “ordinary public consistory” must first take place. This is a formal ceremony attended by cardinals in Rome to show their support for the papal decision canonizing a new saint.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who is the United States’ only Native American Catholic archbishop, told the Rome-based Catholic News Service that: “We are all very proud of her because she embodies in herself what Pope John Paul II called inculturation — the saints are the truly inculturated members of a particular ethnic group because they personally embody both the Gospel and the culture from which they come.”

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