Friday, May 10, 2013

Hawaii's Father Damian

The first time I flew to Hawaii I was well impressed as our flight neared Honolulu when the flight attendant told us in brief the story of Father Damian DeVuester. He was also known as Father Damien of Molokai. His parish was the entire island  of Molokai where lepers were exiled in those days. Father Damian volunteered to go to Hawaii as a missionary when his brother also a priest took sick and could not go.

An energetic and resourceful person, Damian served the material and spiritual needs of his parishioners.
Leprosy was common and a cure was unknown. People afflicted with the disease were sent to Molokai and left there to fend for themselves. When Damian arrived, he met not only physical suffering and decaying bodies but rampant moral decay besides. He helped everyone he could whether Catholic or not.
Using bamboo Father Damian set up a system to bring fresh water from the island's high ground down to the settlement closer to the ocean.
 His prayers, sacrifices and tireless effort transformed Molokai into a place where people found hope. Lepers learned to pray and offer their sufferings in union with Christ. Because it was believed that leprosy was highly contagious, Damian could not leave the island. After several years he did become a leper himself. He worked as long as he could and died in 1889.
Very devoted to the rosary and to Our Lady, Damian set an example for those who saw him. The writer Robert Louis Stevenson defended him from detractors. Volunteers came to help, including "Brother" Joseph Dutton, a Civil War veteran who left his home in Vermont to work alongside the Belgian priest.
Mother Marianne Kope
 Franciscan Sisters from Syracuse, New York came to help Father Damian. They were led by Sister Marianne Kope who is now Saint Mary Ann.
In 2009 Pope Benedict canonized Damian. Saint Damian's feast day is today, May 10th.

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