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What compelled a young priest to volunteer for an assignment that held the risk of contracting a then-incurable disease? Explore the life of Saint Damien and discover for yourself his great love for God and for every person he met. With the long-awaited canonization of Saint Damien, the whole world is shown an example of generous, self-giving love. Including an introduction by Father Lane Akiona, of Damien’s order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, this booklet tells the fascinating and inspiring story of Saint Damien and leads us in a novena of prayers for his intercession. Saint Damien is invoked as the patron of: • Those suffering from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) • Those suffering from HIV/AIDS • Those who care for the sick • Hawai‘i

$2.25 U.S.


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Saint Damien de Veuster Missionary of Moloka‘i Barry Michaels

BOOKS & MEDIA Boston


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Nihil Obstat: Reverend Thomas W. Buckley, S.T.D., S.S.L. Imprimatur:  Seán Cardinal O’Malley, O.F.M., Cap. Archbishop of Boston June 24, 2009 Cover design by Rosana Usselmann Photo of St. Damien: Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, Province of Hawaii Background photo: © Randolph Jay Braun / istockphoto.com ISBN 0-8198-7128-1 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. “P” and PAULINE are registered trademarks of the Daughters of St. Paul. Copyright © 2009, Daughters of St. Paul Published by Pauline Books & Media, 50 Saint Paul’s Avenue, Boston, MA 02130-3491 Printed in the U.S.A. www.pauline.org Pauline Books & Media is the publishing house of the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of women religious serving the Church with the communications media. 123456789

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Contents The Impact of Saint Damien: Letter from Father Lane K. Akiona, SS.CC. . . . . . . . . . 1 Saint Damien’s Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 In the Words of Saint Damien . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Novena to Saint Damien of Moloka‘i . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Prayer from the Liturgy of Saint Damien . . . . . . . . . . 25 Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27


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The Impact of Saint Damien Father Damien de Veuster, SS.CC., the Apostle of Moloka‘i, continues to be a model of service to those in greater need. Damien was drawn to this spirit of service from his early years as a boy in Belgium, influenced especially by his mother. The development of his spiritual life at such a young age had a great effect on his future. His living of the religious life and vows inspires us today to continue the work he started. Many people in our world are not given the dignity and respect that is due them. Damien reminds us that God loves them regardless. We are called to be Damiens today. We are called to lift up every person we meet to the dignity of God’s true love. Damien’s message of love has value for us today. Let us live this love in service to humanity. Father Lane K. Akiona, SS.CC.

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Saint Damien’s Story “I’m sorry, Father. I can’t allow it. It’s too dangerous for us all.” The waves of the sea lapped against the sides of the little wooden boat in which Father Damien stood. Though the captain was high above him on the deck of a steamer that dwarfed his little boat, and Father Damien was helpless to do anything but accept his refusal to permit him to board, there was fear in the captain’s eyes. Damien reminded himself of how repulsive leprosy used to be even to him. He knew the captain was not cold-hearted and was only protecting his crew. But his heart, heavy with the loneliness and depression he too often seemed unable to shake, grew heavier still as he heard the edict. “I understand, Captain,” Damien called up. He and the captain were nearly shouting at each other over the noise of the steamer engine, the wind, and

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the waves. Damien looked at the priest who stood beside the captain, hesitated, and took a deep breath. “Father Modeste, would you hear my confession?” His superior had hitched a ride on the steamer bound for the Hawaiian island of Moloka‘i with a load of cattle, hoping for an opportunity to visit Father Damien. “I already told you, Father,” the captain shouted down, his patience clearly wearing thin. “I can’t let the good Father come down to you, either. Not unless he’s planning on going back to the island with you on that little boat.” The rules at that time were that nobody could leave once they set foot on the leper’s colony on Moloka‘i. “I know, I know, Captain. But I still need him to hear my confession. He’s the first priest I’ve seen in several months and likely the last for many more. So if you and your men could give us some privacy, I would be obliged.” “You want to confess now?” Father Modeste called down. “Here? Like this?” Damien held out his hands, as if inviting him to suggest a better solution. The captain disappeared from Damien’s view, while the priest above shook his head in disbelief. 4


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“Will you never stop surprising me, Father Damien?” he mused as he pulled a small purple confessional stole from a pocket of the trousers beneath his soutane. Father Damien de Veuster, after all, had been surprising people for a long time.1

Mission to Hawai‘i The surprises started when Joseph de Veuster was a young man preparing for priesthood in Belgium in the mid-nineteenth century. He had taken the name Damien when he received the habit of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Damien’s older brother, Pamphile, was a priest of the order, which had been founded in France half a century earlier in the wake of the French Revolution. While preparing to leave for an assignment to the order’s mission in the island kingdom of Hawai‘i, Pamphile contracted typhus. Another priest would need to go in his place. Damien was not yet ready for ordination, but he volunteered for the task—and not to his immediate superior, as would be expected, but directly in a letter to the father general of the order. 5


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His petition was accepted, and in late October 1862, he set sail from Belgium with a handful of Sacred Hearts fathers aboard the merchant ship R. W. Wood. They traveled southwest across the Atlantic Ocean, rounded Cape Horn at the tip of South America, and then north in the Pacific Ocean, finally reaching the Hawaiian Islands five months later. He encountered a native people already profoundly affected by the Western world. The first Christian missionaries, Calvinists from New England, had arrived nearly half a century earlier, and the Sacred Hearts fathers had followed a few years later. Besides religion, the outsiders had also brought sickness and death. As international trade brought ships from faraway places into Honolulu’s harbor, it also introduced diseases never before known on the islands. The natives, who had no immunity, were ravaged by influenza, cholera, smallpox, syphilis, and leprosy (now properly called Hansen’s Disease). The population of the island fell from about 250,000 to 50,000 in less than a century. After arriving in Honolulu on March 19, 1864, Damien was ordained on May 21 and set about his new life. It was one of constant travel around the district assigned to him, composed of vast rough terrain, 6


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ravines, and forests. Much of the travel was by horse or mule, but some was possible only by foot. He learned the Hawaiian language as best he could. Like the native population, he kept sheep, pigs, and chickens, and tended a vegetable garden. When a missionary priest in a neighboring district complained of being unable to handle his territory, which was larger and more difficult that Damien’s, Damien agreed to exchange posts with him.

“A Christian Hero” In spring 1873, as Father Damien attended the dedication of a new church, the local bishop raised the problem of Moloka‘i to the large group of Sacred Hearts priests who gathered there. He didn’t have to explain the vexing issue to them; it was one with which everyone was familiar. Among the many diseases troubling the native Hawaiian population, leprosy had become a scourge. It was incurable, poorly understood, slow in its progression, and terribly disfiguring in its effects. The government had established a settlement where those suffering from leprosy, believed to be highly contagious, were to be permanently quarantined. 7


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A small promontory called Kalaupapa at the northern end of the island of Moloka‘i was chosen. It was surrounded by the ocean on three sides and separated from the rest of the island to the south by a 2,000-foot cliff, making it a natural prison. Now, several years later, with a population that varied between five hundred and a thousand people, Kalaupapa had become a hellish place. Its residents faced despair, cruelty, and almost no social structure. ‘A‘ole kanawai ma keia wahi, went the local saying: “In this place there is no law.” It was also without the care of any pastor of souls. As the bishop discussed the matter with the Sacred Hearts fathers gathered that afternoon, four of them volunteered to stay at the settlement on a rotating basis for several weeks at a time. Father Damien was among them. He asked to be the first to go. And so it was that Damien arrived at Kalaupapa on a Saturday morning, May 10, 1873. (Over a century later, May 10 would be fixed as his feast day on the Church’s sanctoral calendar.) Though he was only supposed to visit periodically, Damien had a sense that Moloka‘i was going to be his permanent home, and even that he would soon be one of the lepers, as well as their minister. Others thought the same thing. 8


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Three days later, the Hawaiian newspaper Nuhou acknowledged his arrival at Kalaupapa in an editorial, saying, “We care not what this man’s theology may be. He is surely a Christian hero.” In fact, intense public attention to his arrival there (and the presumption that he was there to stay) made it seem inadvisable to pull him out. The idea was fine with Damien. “I am bent on devoting my life to the lepers,” he wrote to his superior.2 If his life before the move to Kalaupapa had been hard, it now became far more difficult. He spent the majority of his time visiting the sick who populated the settlement. But there were many other demands on his time as well. He involved himself in laying pipes for water, rebuilding huts that had been damaged by storms, building a road, cleaning and bandaging sores. He built coffins, dug graves, and even, on at least one occasion, amputated a gangrenous limb.

Heartbreaking Misery “From morning to night,” Damien wrote after a year and a half on Moloka‘i, “I am amid heartbreaking physical and moral misery. Still, I try to appear always happy, so as to raise the courage of my patients. 9


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I present death to them as the end of their ills, if they will make a sincere conversion. Many see their last hour come with resignation, and some with joy. Thus, in the course of this year, I have seen a hundred of them die with good dispositions.�3 Indeed, many at Kalaupapa responded to his pastoral love. He had several hundred catechumens just a few months after his arrival, and people often had to watch Sunday Mass through the windows of the church, so crowded did the structure become. But Damien was not flawless, and never had been. He was seen by many as stubborn and impetuous. He had a way of making sure he got things done his way, especially when others, including his superiors, had other ideas. He complained of loneliness and of feeling abandoned; but on the two occasions when brother priests were assigned to work alongside him, he butted heads constantly with them. Letters he wrote that were made public tended to give the impression that he had been abandoned by his congregation, and that no other priest was willing to do the work he was doing (when, in fact, several of the Sacred Hearts fathers had volunteered to their superiors to go if asked). In letters to his brother Pamphile, who had followed a more academic path in the priesthood, 10


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Damien occasionally made comments that suggested Pamphile was being irresponsible to his vocation by living a more comfortable and bookish life. His superiors were uncomfortable with the popular adulation Damien received, and were even more bothered by the large sums of money that were sent by people from all over the world directly to him, money they had almost no control over. Sometimes they learned how it was being used by reading about this or that project of Father Damien’s in the newspaper. As time passed, Damien’s reputation around the world increased and with it an awareness of the plight of leprosy victims. In 1881, he was named Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua by Hawaii’s King Kalakaua and his sister Princess Liliuokalani. Soon after, certainly by 1883, Father Damien contracted leprosy himself. He remained active in his ministry, even as sores and growths and torn skin began to ravage his body. He didn’t become bedridden until the final days of March 1889. A few weeks later, on April 15, after going to Confession and receiving Holy Communion and the Anointing of the Sick, he died. It was Monday of Holy Week, and Father Damien de Veuster was 49 years old. 11

Saint Damien De Veuster  

What compelled a young priest to volunteer for an assignment that held the risk of a then-incurable disease? Explore the life of Saint Damie...

Saint Damien De Veuster  

What compelled a young priest to volunteer for an assignment that held the risk of a then-incurable disease? Explore the life of Saint Damie...