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Father Damien

1840–1889
Civilization: Christian — Hawaii
   Field of Renown:  clergy — Missionary
Era:  Later Modern

Father Damien, born Jozef De Veuster, was the seventh child of a Flemish corn merchant and his wife. He attended college before entering the novitiate of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, where he took the name of Brother Damianus (in French, Damien). Like his brother Augustus, Damien became a Picpus Brother in 1860, but his lack of education made his request for entry into the priesthood a difficult decision for his superiors. He was, however, able to learn Latin under his brother, and he was soon given leave to begin his ecclesiastical studies. Still, Damien’s real goal lay not in diocesan duties but in missionary work, and three years later his prayers were answered when he was chosen to travel to Hawaii.

Father Damien
FATHER DAMIEN
Damien arrived in Honolulu in 1864, and he was soon ordained to the priesthood and assigned to the Catholic Mission on North Kohala. Meanwhile, the island was facing a public health crisis; influenza, syphilis, and leprosy, brought to the natives by foreign traders and settlers, were killing thousands of Hawaiians and threatening to destroy the entire community. One year after Damien’s arrival, the native king approved an "Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy," then thought to be incurable and highly contagious, which quarantined those infected and moved them to Kalawao County, separated from the rest of the island by a mountain ridge. Those sent away—over 8,000 in number—were given food and supplies but could not be provided sufficient medical help, and because of the nature of their illness they could not grow their own crops.

The residing bishop wished to send several priests to those in need, but because he knew that the assignment was essentially a death sentence, he waited for missionaries to volunteer for the position. Eventually four men did, Damien being the first. Damien arrived at the settlement in May 1873, and he immediately set out to establish the Church of Saint Philomena. In addition to his priestly duties, he also built homes and beds, dressed and fed those who could not care for themselves, and dug graves for the deceased. Soon after his coming, the community established laws, built schools, and bettered themselves as best they could. At his own request, Damien remained on Molokai for the remainder of his life.

In 1884, Damien himself contracted leprosy, but he did not let the disease hinder him in his plans for the continued progress of his beloved community. He received treatment from an acclaimed leprologist, which did relieve some of his symptoms, but after five long years of fighting the illness while working diligently, he passed away and his body was returned to its native Belgium. He was beatified in 1995 and canonized in 2009.


Key events during the life of Father Damien:


Year
Event
1840
Born in Belgium.
1860
Became a Picpus Brother.
1861
Entered into ecclesiastical studies to become a priest.
1864
Sailed to Hawaii as a missionary.
  Ordained to the priesthood.
1865
Assigned to the Catholic Mission in North Kohala.
1873
Arrived at the Kalawao settlement to assist the lepers there.
1884
Contracted leprosy.
1889
Died.
1995
Beatified by Pope John Paul II.
2009
Canonized by Pope Bendict XVI.

Other Resources


Story Links
Book Links
The Apostle of the Lepers in  The Red Book of Heroes  by  Andrew Lang
Father Damien  in  Heroes Every Child Should Know  by  H. W. Mabie


Image Links


Father Damien went out and sat in a lonely place by the sea.
 in The Red Book of Heroes


Contemporary
Short Biography
Liliokalani Last Queen of the Hawaiian Islands.
Kalakaua Last King of the Hawaiian Islands.