On April 15, 1889, a leper patient died in the Moloka'i settlement with a smile on his face - "like a child going to sleep" as one onlooker described him. He was buried under a pandanus tree, where he had spent his first nights on Moloka'i many years before. He was gone, and the world should have forgotten him, but as it turned out, the whole world was just starting to remember his name and his work.
He was Father Damien de Veuster, S.S.C.C., the Hero of Moloka'i, and his memory has not dimmed but has spread to every continent in the world... What keeps the image of this man so alive and so startling for each new generation of mankind? Gavan Daws, a historian, perhaps explains it best. "Father Damien," he said, "was an ordinary man who made the most extraordinary moral choices again and again and again.
Ordained In Hawal'i
- Damien came to Hawal'i as a young deacon, replacing his brother, Pamphile,
- who had fallen ill after being assigned to the islands. He was ordained & priest in
- May, 1864, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu and was assigned to the island of Hawai'i, where he worked in the Puna district for many years.
When Bishop Louis Maigret asked for a volunteer to go to Moloka'i to care for the patients in the leper settlement at Kalaupapa, Damien requested to be the one chosen. Bishop Maigret meant to keep him there only a few months, but Damien knew he belonged there for the rest of his life.
Much is known about Damien's work in the settlement. He built as many as 2,000 coffins by hand in which to bury lepers. Coming among the lepers he found chaos
and suffering and the slow, demoralizing death in sickness and isolation. Going among them, Damien began his work by cleansing their sores and bandaging their wounds. He gathered up the young children he found as well, and eventually he built homes for them so that they could live in peace. Slowly order was restored and the lives of the patients changed forever, Always he continued to build and to arrange new ways to restore the dignity of the patients.
And then, in 1876, Father Damien noticed in himself the first signs of the d@ which had claimed so many before him. He had spent three years on Moloka'i, having arrived there on May 10, 1873, and he knew what would happen to him as the disease Progressed, and yet he showed no reluctance or fear. Only a few knew that he was experiencing the first difficulties, until June 1895, when Damien announced to his patients and to the world that the disease had claimed him.
He lived four more years and continued to work. Someone visiting the settlement in 1888 was stunned to find Father Damien on the roof of the new church, worldng with the masons and carpenters. His people, the patients of the settlement, were at his side, restoring the land, building homes and offices, and living once again as human beings with hope.
He died in 1889, and the story of his life and his death was flashed around the world. With the story came the words which have startled and awed generations since that time. Damien, knowing that he had made the ultimate sacrifice for his own, said:
"Blessed be the Good God! I would not be cured If the price of the cure was that I must leave the island and give up my work. I am perfectly resigned tomy lot. Do not feel sorry for me."