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Saint Kateri Intercedes Again for Miracle Boy

In 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha became the first Native American to be a canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. 

Her second miracle occurred when a boy dying from an aggressive infection of flesh-eating bacteria was suddenly healed. That boy was Jake Finkbonner. And Saint Kateri is still at work in his life!

[The following is an article I wrote for Aleteia Catholic Magazine]

A Boy In Need of a Miracle: Background 2012

"It was the last game of the season, and it was the last minute of the game." This is how Elsa Finkbonner begins the story of her son Jake’s fateful encounter in 2012 with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare, flesh-eating disease. "I was driving for a lay-in," Jake continues, "and then I got pushed from behind the back, and I hit my lip on the base of the basketball hoop."

Two days later, recounts Dr. Craig Rubens, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Seattle Children's Hospital, the bacteria was burning across Jake’s face as if the boy’s skin was nothing more than parchment paper: “You're stamping it [out] on one side, and it's flaming up on another." 

Then, Sister Kateri came for a visit. That’s right, Sister, not Saint, Kateri. Jake’s great-aunt brought a visitor, a nun, to pray at his bedside. “I recall looking at her with a stunned look,” said Finkbonner, who also felt chills. “We had been praying for weeks for Blessed Kateri to intercede and spare Jake’s life, and here was this woman and she had the exact same name.” 

"That was the last day that his disease progressed," Elsa says. Sister Kateri had brought a relic of Blessed Kateri with her to pray for Jake. “I prayed with him and his family, and we placed the relic on his bed,” Sister Kateri said.

Father Tim Sauer, the Finkbonner’s parish priest, says Kateri was the perfect intercessor for Jake. "No. 1, we're talking about two young people," Sauer explained in an interview with NPR. "No. 2, we're talking about two people who come from Native American ancestry. And No. 3, we're talking about a person who herself suffered from a disease that disfigured her face." Tekakwitha’s face was scarred by smallpox. Legend has it, when she died, her scars vanished.

Where did Saint Kateri get her name?

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was an Algonquin-Mohawk who converted to Catholicism. Called the “Lily of the Mohawks,” she lived in the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal in New France, now Canada, and was baptized at the age of 19, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676. Tekakwitha was baptized "Catherine" after St. Catherine of Siena – Kateri was the Mohawk form of the name.

“One Kid Down”: Saint Kateri Still Interceding

I recently interviewed Jake’s mom, Elsa Finkbonner. She told me about her family’s recent encounter with now-Saint Kateri.  Jake also recently received the Sacrament of Confirmation – I’ll keep you in suspense, for now, about which saint he picked as his patron … or patroness. Now, back to Jake’s recent encounter with Saint Kateri:

Jake and family not long after his first miraculous encounter with Saint Kateri

“It was at this exact time last year,” Elsa begins. “Jake went to Nicaragua and Costa Rica with the Spanish class at his high school.” She makes sure to add that Jake and his classmates were not allowed to contact their parents during their two-week, full immersion experience. You can imagine how a mother must feel in this situation, having already come so close to losing her child despite all the best that modern, first world medicine could offer. 

While Jake was still in Central America, Elsa continues “one night my husband, Donny, had a dream. Jake came to him saying he needed our help and that he was scared.” As a good Catholic family, the Finkbonners know a father’s dreams, like those of Saint Joseph, are to be heeded. In his dream, Donny asked Jake what was wrong. Jake said that he didn't know, but to please help him. 

By the next morning, Jake’s parents were obviously growing extremely concerned, but, as a rule, were unable to contact their son or his teacher. All they could do was check Facebook, where one of Jake’s teachers had been posting photos with periodic updates of the trip. The teacher’s latest post read simply “one kid down" without any indication of which child. Can you imagine what Jake’s parents must have been experiencing at this moment? And the agony of not knowing? 

Many parents in moments like these have been comforted by the Blessed Mother, of whom it was said “a sword will pierce your own soul, also” (Luke 2:35). The Finkbonner family, though, has been blessed with an additional intercessor. Elsa recalls praying daily for Saint Kateri to “keep watch over him and to bring him home safely to us.”

While anxiously waiting to hear which child was “down,” Jake’s parents were relieved to see a new Facebook post: a picture of Jake smiling and apparently in perfect health. A few days then passed before Elsa and Donny greeted Jake at the airport in Seattle. “We were so excited to see him,” Elsa recounts, “only to see that he was spotted from head to toe.” 

Jake’s teacher then revealed to his parents that Jake had indeed been the “one kid down.” Jake had experienced a severe heat stroke in Costa Rica and had passed out. People were working on him from 9pm until 1am, Jake’s mother explains, trying to get him rehydrated and to regain consciousness. It was about this time that Jake visited his father’s dream.  

The coincidence with Jake’s skin again been affected is startling, as well. He was so covered in spots, Elsa explains, that while getting off the plane and going through Customs, Jake’s teacher asked him to wear his sweatshirt. Otherwise, Jake may have been suspected of carrying the Zika virus into the country, which was then a major international concern. 

“That was Jake's second near death experience, and I am certain that Saint Kateri was there for him once again,” Elsa states. “And we know that Jake came to Donny in his dream when Jake was so ill in Costa Rica.” 

Jake's Plans for the Future

Just as before, Jake recovered from his health scare and is doing great. He’s getting ready for college and hopes to pursue a degree in medicine. After many, many encounters with plastic surgeons following the flesh-eating bacteria’s devastation to his skin, especially his face, Jake was inspired to become a surgeon and has not wavered from this goal. Please join his family in praying for his goals through the intercession of Saint Kateri! 

I left you in suspense earlier. Are you still wondering which saint name Jake picked for his Confirmation? 

It was, of course, Saint Kateri! 

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us!

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