St Damien – Spreading the Gospel of Life

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Yesterday was the feast of St Damien de Veuster, who served the lepers of Molokai. Yet there is much more to this saint than that particular act of heroism.

He was a man of vast energy and resourcefulness who admired the people he served and their culture. Arriving in Hawaii on March 19th 1864, Fr Damien worked tirelessly farming, building, educating and preaching in incredible circumstances.

As is pointed out in the CTS biography, Fr Damien, by Glynn MacNiven-Johnston:

“Much of Fr Damien’s life [in his large Hawaiian] second parish reads like a Boys’ Own adventure story. One of the villages he wanted to visit was so isolated that he decided the best way to get there would be by outrigger canoe across the sea. He set off with a few of his Hawaiian parishioners but after quite a short time the canoe capsized in the high waves and he and the others found themselves in the water. He wrote home prosaically that they managed quite easily to swim back to shore as they held on to the capsized canoe, and each of them took turns to beat the sharks off with the paddles.”

When he arrived on Molokai, an island used to quarantine lepers, he worked alone for six years. Much has been said and written about his efforts to give them a dignified life and death, yet it was their eternal health which he was always more concerned with. He heard the lepers’ confessions despite the terrible smell of their breath and the blood they often coughed up onto him.

On April 15th 1889 he died, after contracting the disease, showing that he really was a good shepherd; he, like Christ, gave his life in the service of his sheep. His cause was opened in 1956 and on June 7th 1977, Pope Paul VI named him “Venerable”. He was beatified on the 4th June 1995 by John Paul II and canonised on 11th October 2009. He was the subject of the 1999 film called Molokai, starring the Australian actor David Wenham, better known to most cinema-goers as Faramir from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

We asked the author of the CTS biography of Father Damien, Glynn MacNiven-Johnston, what her favourite story about the saint was, and she told us:

“When he arrived in Hawaii, he began preaching right away, only his Hawaiian was so dreadful no one understood him. Yet, that did not put him off, he just kept trying.”

A fitting tribute to a man whose every endeavour was for the spreading of the Gospel. His parishioners’ bodies may have been wasting away, but their souls were so valuable that Christ had died to save them, and St Damien also died to save their souls.

St Damien, pray for us.


Of related interest:

B672 Mother Teresa – As Agnes Bojaxhiu left her home in Albania to join the missionary Loreto Sisters in Ireland, she began a journey which would make her one of the most famous women of the twentieth century.
B691 Martin de Porres – Martin de Porres is a saint whose popularity has remained undiminished despite his obscure history as a seventeenth century Dominican in South America. His humility and love, in the face of racism and prejudice make him a model for our own time.
B705 Dorothy Day – A controversial figure in life, and even in death, there are many who believe Dorothy Day, who died in 1980, to be a modern day saint. An American journalist and political activist who converted to Catholicism following a profound existential crisis in her late twenties, Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement,

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