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May 10

Saint Damien of Molokai photograph by William Brigham

Saint Damien of Molokai

Priest

(1840 – 1889)

“Be severe toward yourself, indulgent toward others.

Saint Damien of Molokai

Saint’s Life Story

His Early Life in Belgium

Jozef Damien De Veuster, was born at Tremelo, Belgium, on January 3, 1840 to Joannes Franciscus (“Frans”) De Veuster and his wife Anne-Catherine (“Cato”) Wouters. He was the youngest of seven children and the fourth son. His older sisters Eugénie and Pauline became nuns, and his older brother Auguste (Father Pamphile) joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Picpus Fathers).

Farm Worker Sent to College

Jozef was forced to quit school at age 13 to work on the family farm. His father sent him to a college at Braine-le-Comte to prepare for a commercial profession, but as a result of a mission given by the Redemptorists in 1858, Joseph decided to pursue a religious vocation.

Missionary Sent to Hawaii

Jozef began his novitiate with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary at the beginning of 1859 and took the name Damien, presumably after the first Saint Damien, a fourth-century physician and martyr.

He would pray every day before a picture of St Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries, to be sent on a mission. In 1863 his brother, Father Pamphile (Auguste), who was to leave for a mission in the Hawaiian Islands, fell ill. Since preparations for the voyage had already been made, Damien obtained permission from the Superior General to take his brother’s place. He landed in Honolulu on March 19, 1864, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 21, 1864, in what is now known as Cathedral of our Lady of Peace. 

In 1865, Damien was assigned to the Catholic Missions in North Kohala on the island of Hawaii. While he was serving in several parishes on Oahu, Hawaii was struggling with a labor shortage and a public health crisis. Many of the native Hawaiian parishioners had high mortality rates due to infectious diseases such as leprosy (Hansen’s disease), smallpox, cholera, influenza, syphilis and whopping cough brought to the Hawaiian Islands by foreign traders, sailors and immigrants. Thousands of Hawaiians died of such diseases, to which they had no acquired immunity. 

Quarantine on the Island of Molokai

At that time, the Hawaiian Government decided on the harsh measure of quarantine aimed at preventing the spread of leprosy: the deportation to the neighboring Island of Molokai of all those infected by what was then thought to be an incurable disease. The entire mission was concerned about the abandoned lepers and Bishop Louis Maigret, a Picpus father, felt sure they needed priests. He did not want to send anyone “in the name of obedience” because he was aware such an assignment was a potential death sentence. After much prayer, four priests volunteered to go, among them Father Damien.

First Volunteer and Strong Advocate

On May 10, 1873, the first volunteer, Father Damien, arrived at the isolated settlement at Kalaupapa, where there were then 600 lepers. Bishop Maigret planned for the volunteers to take turns in rotation assisting the inhabitants. Part of a team of four chaplains taking that assignment for three months each year, Father Damien soon volunteered to remain permanently, caring for the people’s physical, medical and spiritual needs. He helped to doctor their sores, say last rites and even dig their graves.  In time, he became their most effective advocate to obtain promised government support. Up until then, the financially-strapped government provided almost no assistance.

Soon the settlement had new houses and a new church, school and orphanage. Morale improved considerably. In 1888, the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse led by Saint Marianne Cope were given charge of the colony in Kalaupapa, taking care of the female patients with Hansen’s Disease. After his death, Saint Marianne Cope was successor of the Boys Home in Kalawao, Molokai.

Selfless Service Through His Death

At his own request and that of the lepers, he remained on Molokai. Having contracted leprosy himself, he died on April 15, 1889, in Kalaupappa, Molokai, Hawaii, at the age of 49, after serving 16 years among the lepers. He was buried in the local cemetery under the same Pandanus tree where he had first slept upon his arrival in Molokai.

St. Damian was known for his heroic faithfulness to the people he served, unwilling to leave the island even in the face of contracting the disease. His example of selfless service has inspired many over the years. Father Damien is an example of a missionary who cared more about the people he served than for himself and his needs.

Beatified:            June 4, 1995 by Pope John Paul II

Canonized:         October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XV

Feast Day:          May 10

Patron Saint:     Hawaii, HIV/AIDS Patients, Leprosy Patients, Outcasts

Sources:

Reflection

Saint Damien turned his compassion into action sacrificing his life for others. He risked his life working with sick lepers on Moloka.

What compassion and small acts of kindness can you do for those around you today that can be signs for others of Jesus’ love on Earth?

Prayers

Saint Damien of Moloka’i, intercede on behalf of all fathers to make them ever more generous in serving without reserve the families they head, making your life not only a source of inspiration, but also of emulation, to all who know of your heroic generosity.

Saint Damien of Moloka’i, pray for us. Amen.

Source: Saint Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i, Priest – USA Optional Memorial (mycatholic.life)

Saint Links 

Aleteia – What is St. Damien of Molokai known for?

Anastpaul – 10 May – The Memorial of St Damian de Veuster de Molokai

Angelus News – Saint of the day: St Damien of Moloka’i

Catholic Culture – The Recognition of Fr. Damien

Catholic Exchange – Ten Ways to Live Out the Prayer of Mass

Catholic Ireland – Apr 15 – St Damian the Leper (1840-89)

Catholic News Agency – Saint Damien of Molokai

CatholicSaints.info – Catholic Encyclopedia – Father Damien

Independent Catholic News – Saint Damien of Molokai

Loyola Press – St Damien of Molokai

Wikipedia – Father Damien

Video Link

St. Damien of Molokai – YouTube (Catholic Online)