Saint Damien de Veuster of Moloka'i
Jul 18, 2020 / Written by: America Needs Fatima
Feast May 10
St. Damien is known as the Leper Priest and the Hero of Moloka'i. Born in Tremelo in Belgium on January 3, 1840, he was son of a farmer and his wife.
He lived a devout life and in 1860 obtained permission to join the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Although born Jozef De Veuster, the young brother took the name Damien in religious life. In 1864, in answer to his prayers to St. Francis Xavier, he was sent as a missionary to Honolulu, Hawaii. Here he applied himself to diligent study to compensate for his lack of an early education, and he was ordained to the sacred priesthood on May 21.
For the next nine years Fr. Damien worked in various missions throughout Hawaii.
Wishing to do more to help God’s suffering people, Fr. Damien volunteered as a missionary priest to the leper community on the island of Moloka'i. His offer was accepted by Bishop Louis Désiré Maigret, the Vicar Apostolic of Honolulu and on May 10, 1873 Damien was formerly presented by the bishop to the flock of his new mission.
Fr. Damien’s first course of action was to build a church for the inhabitants of the colony of Moloka'i and to establish the Parish of St. Philomena. He was not just an ordinary parish priest to his large flock, he went out "into the highways and byways,” dressing ulcers, building proper homes and furniture for his parishioners, making coffins and digging graves. “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all for Jesus Christ,” he wrote of himself to his brother.
Under his leadership, working farms were organized, basic laws enforced, and hospitals, schools and orphanages established, for Fr. Damien had a particular concern and care for the children of his mission.
Contracting leprosy himself in 1885, Fr. Damien continued to work vigorously to build as many homes as he could and made plans for the continuation of the programs he had established for after he was gone.
The Hero of Maloka'i died of leprosy in the early morning of April 15, 1889, at the age of 49.
After his funeral Mass at St. Philomena's the next day, the whole leper colony of Moloka'i followed the funeral cortège to the cemetery where Damien was laid to rest under the same pandanus tree where he had slept upon his arrival at the mission.
St. Damien of Moloka'i was canonized on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI who held the Leper Priest up as one who "teaches us to choose the good fights, not those that lead to division, but those that gather us together in unity."