The Rev. Tim Sauer was the Finkbonner's parish priest in Ferndale, Washington — as well as the visiting pastor on the Lummi reservation — when Jake cut his lip while playing basketball on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006. The necrotizing fasciitis bacteria that entered Jake's body through the cut immediately began spreading, and by the time Sauer arrived at Seattle Children's Hospital where Jake was airlifted two days later, Donny and Elsa Finkbonner were preparing to bury their son.
"At that point, we were desperate, and we were looking for anyone's help that would help our son," Donny said, recalling how doctors had said there wasn't much else for them to do but pray, and that they had come to terms with the possibility that their oldest of three children might not survive the week.
"We wanted Jake back with us desperately," he recalled. "But we were willing to give him up" to God.
Sauer, who performed the last rites ritual on Jake that Wednesday — four days after he cut his lip — said he immediately urged the Finkbonners and the congregation back on the reservation to pray to Kateri, thinking their shared Native American heritage and scarring diseases were relevant.
He said he did so first and foremost to save Jake, but also because he thought that Native Americans could use a "boost of faith" if one of their own were held up as a saint. Indigenous Catholics, he said, increasingly find themselves ostracized and criticized on their reservations for embracing and retaining the Christian faith spread by imperial colonizers.
"There's been a growing sense of a return to Native American spirituality on reservations, which are good things, but at the same time along with that has been some criticism that native people should let go of Christianity because that was brought by the 'white man' and should go back to their own native culture entirely," he said.
He said Kateri represents a perfect model for indigenous Catholics today, someone who resisted the ostracization of fellow natives and kept the faith.
For the devoutly Catholic Finkbonners, prayer was all they had left after Jake's doctors tried unsuccessfully for two weeks to stop the bacteria's spread. Jake was in a drug-induced coma for most of that time and says he doesn't remember much, a few memories "here and there, not all of it."
"Every day it would seem the news would get worse," Donny recalled. "I remember the last day that we met with the whole group of doctors, Elsa didn't even want to hear. She just got behind me and was holding on."
But rather than bad news, the doctors said the infection had stopped. "It was like a volcano that was erupting, and they opened him up and it was gone. It had stopped. It was a pretty amazing day," Donny said.
It took the Finkbonners several years to realize that the turning point had come a day after a friend of the family — a nun named after Kateri — had visited them in the hospital, prayed with them and placed a relic of the soon-to-be saint on Jake's leg.
"It took years for us to look at the calendar and recall that this is the day she came, this is the day she put the relic on, this is the day the infection stopped," Elsa said. "As the years of the investigation have gone on, little bits and pieces of puzzle seem to fall into place, and that's where it all makes sense now as to why Jake's story turned out so big."
Jake, who bears the scars of his ordeal, seems all too happy to be the center of attention this weekend. But he seems keen to move on from his celebrity. He has basketball tryouts when he gets back home and his studies — he wants to be a plastic surgeon when he grows up. "Kateri was placed on this earth, and she has interceded on many people's behalf, she has defined her purpose," Elsa said. "I think Jake has bigger, larger plans in store for him."
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