Born on January 3 1840, Father Damien of Molokai was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the missionary institute called Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
He won recognition for his ministry from 1873 to 1889 in the Kingdom of Hawaii for his tremendous care and devotion to people with leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease), who were required to live under a government-sanctioned medical quarantine on the island of Molokai on the Kalaupapa Peninsula.
During this time, he taught the Catholic faith to the people of Hawaii.
Father Damien also cared for the patients himself and established leadership within the community to build houses, schools, roads, hospitals, and churches.
He dressed residents’ ulcers, built a reservoir, made coffins, dug graves, shared pipes, and ate poi [a Hawaiian dish made from the root of taro, cooked and pounded to a paste] from his hands with them, providing both medical and emotional support.
After sixteen years of caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony, Father Damien realized he had also contracted leprosy when he was scalded by hot water and felt no pain.
He continued with his work despite the infection but finally succumbed to the disease on 15 April 1889.
|Father Damien on his deathbed|
Father Damien has been described as a “martyr of charity”.
He was the tenth person in what is now the United States to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
In both the Latin Rite and the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, Father Damien is venerated as a saint.
In the Anglican communion, as well as other denominations of Christianity, Damien is considered the spiritual patron for leprosy and outcasts.
Father Damien Day, April 15, the day of his passing, is also a minor statewide holiday in Hawaii and to this day Father Damien is the patron saint of the Diocese of Honolulu and of Hawaii.
Upon his beatification by Pope John Paul II in Rome on 4 June 1995, Blessed Damien was granted a memorial feast day, which is celebrated on 10 May.
Father Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on 11 October 2009.
The Catholic Encyclopedia calls him “the Apostle of the Lepers.”