St Damien De Veuster of Molokai, also known as Father Damien or Jozef De Veuster, was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
He was born on January 3 1840 in Tremelo, Brabant, Belgium and died on April 15 1889 at the age of 49 in Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii.
We celebrate his feast day on May 10 every year in the Catholic Church.
St Damien de Veuster of Molokai is the Patron Saint of
• Against leprosy
|St Damien de Veuster of Molokai Biography
|Date of Birth
|January 3 1840
|Place of Birth
|Tremelo, Brabant, Belgium
|Roman Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
|Place of Work
|Date of Death
|April 15 1889
|Place of Death
|By Pope John Paul II on June 4 1995 in Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Koekelberg), Brussels
|By Pope Benedict XVI on October 11 2009 in Vatican City
|Patron Saint of
|• Against leprosy
St Damien de Veuster of Molokai Life History
Jozef De Veuster, who later became known as Father Damien, was born on January 3 1840 in the village of Tremelo in rural Belgium.
He was the youngest of seven children and the fourth son of Joannes Franciscus De Veuster, a corn merchant, and his wife Anne-Catherine Wouters.
St Damien De Veuster of Molokai had two older sisters, Eugénie and Pauline, who became nuns, and an older brother named Auguste (Father Pamphile) who joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Picpus Fathers).
At the age of 13, Damien was unable to continue his education and was compelled to work on his family’s farm.
His father then sent him to Braine-le-Comte to study business, but after attending a Redemptorist mission in 1858, Damien felt called to religious life.
After joining the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at Louvain, he took the name Damien, possibly in reference to the fourth-century physician and martyr Saint Damian.
He then became a religious on October 7 1860 after completing the novitiate.
Despite lacking education, St. Damien De Veuster of Molokai was not deemed unintelligent by his superiors, who did not initially consider him a good candidate for the priesthood.
However, because he had learned Latin well from his brother, they eventually decided to allow him to become a priest.
Throughout his studies, Damien prayed fervently to be sent on a mission and daily prayed before a picture of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries.
His opportunity came three years later when his brother, Father Pamphile, fell ill and could not travel to Hawaii as a missionary. As a result, Damien was permitted to take his place.
St Damien De Veuster of Molokai arrived at Honolulu Harbor in Oʻahu on March 19, 1864. He was ordained as a priest on May 21, 1864, at the present-day Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.
His assignment in 1865 was to the Catholic Mission in North Kohala on the island of Hawaiʻi. As he served in various parishes on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi faced a labor shortage and a public health crisis.
Foreign traders, sailors, and immigrants introduced infectious diseases such as smallpox, cholera, influenza, syphilis, whooping cough, and leprosy to the Hawaiian Islands, where many Native Hawaiian parishioners had no immunity to these diseases.
As a result, high mortality rates were observed among the Hawaiian population, and thousands died of these illnesses, including leprosy, from which St Damien De Veuster eventually died.
During that period, leprosy was believed to be highly infectious and incurable. In 1865, due to the fear of this contagious disease, King Kamehameha V and the Hawaiian Legislature passed a law called the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy.”
This law mandated that the lepers in Hawaii be isolated, with the most severe cases being relocated to a settlement colony on the eastern end of the Kalaupapa peninsula in Molokaʻi, known as Kalawao.
Between 1866 and 1969, approximately 8,000 Hawaiians were sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula for medical quarantine.
In the beginning, the government supplied the people in quarantine with food and other necessities, but they were not equipped with the necessary personnel and resources to provide proper healthcare.
Later on, the Kingdom did not allocate enough resources to support them, and it was hoped that the lepers would be able to care for themselves and cultivate crops.
However, due to the impact of leprosy and the local environmental conditions of the peninsula, this plan was not feasible.
Bishop Louis Désiré Maigret, who oversaw the Honolulu diocese, recognized the need for a Catholic priest to serve the lepers, but he also understood the potential dangers involved.
Despite this, Father Damien and three other priests were willing to take on the assignment after much prayer. The bishop arranged for them to rotate in assisting the residents.
Father Damien arrived at the Kalaupapa settlement on May 10, 1873, as the first volunteer to help the 600 lepers living there.
Upon arrival, he addressed the community as someone who loves them so much that he is willing to be a father to them, live among them, and even die with them.
During his time at the settlement, Father Damien provided care to the lepers and worked to establish a better living situation for them.
He accomplished this by training leaders within the community, teaching, painting houses, setting up farms, and organizing the construction of essential buildings such as hospitals, churches, roads, and chapels.
Father Damien did not hesitate to participate in physically demanding tasks such as dressing the residents, digging graves, and building coffins.
He even ate food by hand with the lepers, shared pipes with them, and lived among them as equals. Father Damien’s work was not just limited to providing physical care; he also acted as a priest and spread the Catholic faith among the lepers.
It is said that he comforted them by telling them that they were always precious in the eyes of God, despite what the outside world thought of them.
Fr Damien was honored by King David Kalākaua with the title of “Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalākaua.”
When Crown Princess Lydia Liliʻuokalani visited Kalaupapa to present him with the medal, she was too heartbroken at the sight of the residents to read her speech.
However, the princess shared her experience and praised Damien’s efforts, which led to his growing reputation in the United States and Europe.
As a result, Americans raised significant funds for his missionary work and sent food, medicine, clothing, and supplies to the settlement. Although it was placed by his side at his funeral, Damien never actually wore the royal medal.
Father Damien dedicated 16 years of his life to serving in Hawaii. However, in December of 1884, while he was preparing to bathe, he unknowingly put his foot into scalding water, which caused his skin to blister. He felt nothing.
It was then that he realized he had contracted leprosy, a common way for people to discover they had been infected with the disease.
Despite his illness, Father Damien continued to work tirelessly, perhaps even more so than before.
On March 23, 1889, Father Damien became bedridden due to his leprosy, and he died on April 15, 1889, at the age of 49. He was buried under the pandanus tree where he had slept upon his arrival on Molokaʻi.
At the behest of King Leopold III of Belgium and the Belgian government, Father Damien’s body was repatriated to Belgium, his homeland, in January 1936.
He was laid to rest in Leuven, a city near his birthplace. Following his beatification in June 1995, Father Damien’s right hand was returned to Hawaii and interred in his original grave on Molokaʻi.
In December 1999, the feast of Blessed Damien was placed on the liturgical calendar as an optional memorial.
Two miracles have been attributed to Father Damien’s posthumous intercession;
- Pope John Paul II approved the healing of a French nun in 1895 as a miracle attributed to Venerable Damien’s intercession on 13 June 1992.
Sister Simplicia Hue had been suffering from an intestinal illness and was close to death when she started a novena to Father Damien.
It is reported that her symptoms and pain disappeared suddenly and completely overnight.
- Audrey Toguchi, a Hawaiian woman, suffered from a rare form of cancer and was told her prognosis was terminal.
However, after praying at Father Damien’s grave on Molokaʻi, she experienced remission, which couldn’t be explained medically.
Toguchi was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a type of cancer that develops in fat cells in 1997. Despite undergoing surgery and having a tumor removed, the cancer spread to her lungs.
Her doctor, Dr. Walter Chang, informed her that no one had ever survived this cancer and that it would take her life. However, as of 2016, Toguchi was still alive.
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