PHOTO COURTESY OF E. FINKBONNER, ST. FRANCIS XAVIER MISSION | G. BERBERIAN
Blessed Kateri, depicted by Fr. Claude Chauchetière, is attributed with interceding when Jake Finkbonner (insert), waged a life and death battle with flesh-eating disease.
When five-year-old Jake Finkbonner showed up to play his last basketball game of the season in Ferndale, Wash., he had no idea it would change his life and lead to events that would culminate in the canonization of a saint.
At that fateful game in 2006, he cut his lip after falling on the base of the portable basketball hoop. On the surface was the bacteria necrotizing fasciitis.
The bacteria infected Jake's facial tissue, and the infection quickly spread.
"By the next day, I was fighting for my life," Jake writes on his website.
His family was stunned.
"He was injured on a Saturday and by Monday he was being airlifted to Children's Hospital in Seattle," said Elsa Finkbonner, Jake's mother.
700 Mohawks head for canonization
CATHOLIC TIMES MONTREAL
MONTREAL – An estimated 700 people will travel from two Quebec/Ontario Mohawk territories for the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha in October.
Organizers are also expecting record attendance at the annual Tekakwitha Conference, to be held July 18-22 in Albany, N.Y., which will include a pilgrimage to Kateri's birthplace in Auriesville.
"I was joyous and happy but not surprised when I heard about her canonization," said Deacon Ron Boyer, vice-postulator for Blessed Kateri's cause. "I knew it was overdue."
"For our people, everyone's excited - even non-Catholics, because they hold her in high esteem," said Boyer.
Boyer will travel to Rome to witness the Oct. 21 canonization and will be accompanied by at least 300 people from Kahnawake and 400 from Akwesasne
Pope Benedict approved a miracle attributed to Blessed Kateri's intercession on Dec. 19. The Vatican made the official declaration of sainthood Feb. 18.
Local preparations began April 15 with a Mass, celebrated by Bishop Lionel Gendron of St-Jean-Longueuil, at St. Francis Xavier Mission, near Montreal.
The Mass was the culmination of a nine-week novena in anticipation of Kateri's national day of celebration April 17, the day on which she died in 1680 at the Kahnawake mission.
The fast-moving bacteria attack and destroy the flesh. The disease, which caused former Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard to lose a leg in 1994, has a high mortality rate.
On Tuesday, doctors informed Elsa and her husband, Donny, that his situation was critical, and that their goal at that point was to save his life.
"We were not expecting that at all; it took our breath away. We fell to our knees in prayer," Elsa told the Catholic Times.
Jake's condition remained critical for the next two weeks: His family was told several times to prepare for his death.
Given the ominous news, Jake's parents called their pastor, Father Tim Sauer, to administer last rites to their son. Sauer, who was also pastor of a predominantly First Nations Catholic parish, was familiar with Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and strongly urged Jake's parents to seek her intercession.
"I did exactly as I was told and I prayed for her intercession endlessly," said Elsa. "Her relic was pinned to his bed sheets; it went with him wherever he went," she added.
During that period – Jake later told his parents – he also had an out-of-body experience where he met Jesus with his recently deceased godfather. Although Jake wanted to stay in that experience, Jesus told him that he needed to return to his parents and younger sisters.
After two weeks of surgical interventions to arrest the spread of the disease, Jake's great-aunt brought a visitor to pray at his bedside.
"In the midst of talking with (the visitors) about Jake and his condition, the friend introduced herself as Sister Kateri. I recall looking at her with a stunned look," said Elsa.
"I got 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," Elsa recounted.
Sister Kateri, a Sister of St. Anne, 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.
It was after the sister's visit that the major turning point in Jake's recovery occurred, Elsa said.
"It was later that I heard that the doctors themselves say that this definitely is beyond any medical intervention," Sister Kateri recalled.
Jake and his family will head to Rome this fall to witness the Oct. 21 canonization of the woman who interceded on their behalf.
Jake had 22 surgeries during his first hospital stay. Nevertheless, he remains a normal 11-year-old, his mother said. He plays basketball with passion and enjoys his video games.