North America will have a new saint soon. A second miracle due to the intercession of Blessed Kateri Tekawitha has been officially approved by the Vatican. Kateri was an American Indian girl who died at the age of 24. Here are the basics of the miracle that was just approved. At the end, we offer a brief biography of Kateri.
5 year old Jake Finkbonner was playing basketball in 2006 when he split his lip. A deadly flesh-eating bacteria invaded his body through the cut. The bacteria is known as Strep A, and about 10%-15% of those who get it die. In Jake’s case the infection invaded his cheeks, eyelids, scalp and chest while doctors worked feverishly to stop its spread. The doctors surgically removed his damaged flesh daily and prepared Jake’s family several times for what they thought would be his death.
A priest named Father Tim Sauer was close with the family, and it occurred to him to ask the family to pray to God through the intercession of Blessed Kateri Tekawitha.
Jake’s family are part of a Native American tribe called the Lummi who live in Washington State. The family is Catholic. Since Kateri was a Native American, Fr. Tim thought that her intercession might be especially appropriate.
In fact, Blessed Kateri had been a victim of an infection herself when she was a small girl. It had left her face disfigured. It had also killed her parents.
A woman brought the family a small coin with the image of Kateri and a prayer card.
“I pinned that relic to his pillow and I read that prayer to him every single day,” his mother said.
Jake made a recovery that the medical doctors cannot explain.
The Vatican scrupulously investigates miracle claims for proof that recovery was not the result of medical or surgical attention. It examined the testimony of the doctors who took care of Jake and consulted other doctors as well. All the conclusions were that there was no explanation of Jake’s recovery. On December 19th, the Vatican concluded that Jake’s cure was a true miracle through the intercession of Kateri Tekawitha.
It takes proof of two miracles for the Catholic Church to officially declare that someone is a saint. This is Kateri’s second certified miracle.
When the Church declares that someone is a saint, that does not mean that the official saints are the only ones in heaven. The Church just wants to be very careful about who it holds up as an example.
In fact, the Church is so careful that, besides verifying the holiness of a person’s life, it asks God to confirm the situation. That’s what the miracles are about. The Church sees the miracles as God’s way of confirming that the person is really with him in heaven.
Jake Finkbonner is now a sixth grader at Assumption Catholic School in Bellingham, Washington. He continues to play basketball.
And he will go to the Vatican to attend the ceremony of canonization (The ceremony of canonization is the moment when the Pope makes the official declaration that someone is a saint. It is usually done during a solemn Mass.) Jake will meet the Pope in that ceremony. He is very excited about that and about what Kateri Tekawitha has done for him.
“I pray to Kateri now myself,” Jake said. “Other people have asked about my story and told me their stories, and I pray to her for other people to be healed.
Below we are republishing the story of Kateri’s life that we published as part of the lesson on Breaking Dawn. Her life was very sad, but very beautiful. It reminds us that God sees not just the outside, but especially the inside of our hearts.
Kateri was born in what is today the town of Auriesville, in upstate New York. Her father was a Mohawk chief, and her mother (who had been taken prisoner after an inter-tribal battle) was an Algonquin Christian. When she was just five years old, Kateri’s parents and baby brother died in smallpox epidemic that decimated the tribe. She caught the disease, but survived, though it left her face scarred and her eyesight severely weakened. Her mother’s dying wish was that Kateri might some day be baptized.
Her uncle had adopted Kateri when he took over as chief and relocated the tribe across the Mohawk River. She was a hardworking girl, very productive. With the other women of the tribe she spent her days in the fields, or in the longhouse keeping the household in order, making baskets, doing beadwork and embroidery, and cooking. Her industry was exceeded only by her kindness and gentleness. Her Uncle was dissatisfied in only one thing: the girl had no desire to marry. He and the other relatives were determined to overcome this reluctance.
But God had other plans. When she was a teenager some French missionaries visited the village. The Chief extended them a proper but cold welcome. As she served the men of God, Kateri became fascinated by them. When she saw them at their prayers (notably their rosary) she was reminded of her mother, and her mother’s dying wish. Eventually they set up a little chapel in the village and traveled through regularly. She was drawn to the faith, longed to visit the chapel and receive baptism… but her uncle forbade her; she wasn’t even permitted to speak to the missionaries.
One day when she was 19 Father Jacques de Lamberville stopped by her longhouse while the Chief was out. She immediately fell on her knees and asked to become a Christian. The priest was deeply impressed with her sincerity and piety. Somehow, he obtained permission from her guardian, and on Easter Sunday, 1676 the Mohawk maiden was baptized and given the name Kateri (Catherine).
Her devotion grew quickly, but her new-found faith caused other members of the tribe anger and she suffered verbal and physical abuse from them. The members of the tribe used to fling mud and sticks at her as she went to and from the chapel. They mocked her: “There goes the Christian…” On Sundays they would give her no food, since she refused to work on the Lord’s Day. Once a drunken warrior burst into the longhouse where she was working quietly with a club, threatening to beat her to death unless she denounced Christ. She answered, “You may take my life, but not my faith,” and bowed her head waiting for the fatal blow. But it never came. Her indomitable courage unnerved the assailant.
Eventually the abuse became unbearable (they tried to force her to marry, tricking and deceiving her) and she decided to flee to the nearest Catholic settlement, more than 200 miles away through the wilderness. Two missionaries accompanied her and guided her to her new home, where she would receive her first Holy Communion, be inspired to make a vow of virginity, serve the community through work, prayer, and penance, and spend her last months tormented by horrible sickness as her life ebbed away. Through it all her constant companion was the rosary.
She passed away with the following words on her lips: “Jesus, Mary, I love you!” She was only 24 years old.
Only a few minutes after her death, while the priest was still kneeling beside her in prayer, her scarred features were suddenly and quietly transformed into the radiant face of a beautiful young Indian woman. It was the first miracle wrought by God for his especially beloved Mohawk daughter, and it wouldn’t be the last.