If you ever have the chance to see the film about this man, it is an astonishing work:
So many biographies tend to be dull, or appear to be grasping for drama.
This man’s life did not need any more drama, it was filled to the brim with it as soon as he arrived in Molokai
I am not sure how many of us ever could, or would, have had the courage to do what he did.
I was a treatment Nurse in a Rehab Center for four years and was surrounded daily by those that society and the state of California considered to be wretched souls.
Many there were merely being housed in a state facility, that kept them medicated just enough to be safe for the staff to work with, or somewhat controllable.
Some times however, they were not.
I ended up in the local ER three times, as proof of this.
The third time was the end for my husband, who said, ” you’re all done there, and you’re not going back.”
I wanted to stay, knowing how much needed to be done there, but sadly, finally agreed to leave, knowing that he was right.
But back to the facts about Father Damien, who was said to be the inspiration for Gandhi in his struggle to make India and her people independent from England.
Jozef De Veuster was born on January 3, 1840 in Tremelo, Belgium.
He arrived in Hawaii on March 19, 1864 and began a journey of such love and courage, that the world and its opinion of the disease he eventually succumbed to, would be changed forever.
Disease was inflicted on the innocent people of the Hawaiian Islands, by those who came to do business with them, mostly, sailors and traders.
By 1865, health conditions on the Islands had reached such a crisis level, that a law was passed to isolate those with what was considered to be the worst and fatal, Leprosy, to Molokai in a Leper Colony and kept under strict quarantine.
When Father Damien began his work on Molokai, May 10, 1873, it was assumed to be a death sentence.
Hawaii’s Bishop called for volunteers for this mission and Father Damien was the first to step up.
It was planned that three others would follow him.
The Island of Molokai was for those sad souls who ended up there, a place of misery and death.
But, Father Damien came and brought with him the changes that would give those afflicted, hope.
Hawaiian people are normally quite happy, loving and affectionate.
Those who ended up on Molokai, were nothing at all like their relatives on the other Islands.
The dedication, devotion, love and passion of Father Damien made those on Molokai believe that they could do something for themselves, and because of him, many of them for the first time, found peace.
But their peace came at a high price for Damien, who after 16 years of selfless service to these terribly sick people, finally contracted the disease that would end his life.
Father Damien continued while he was sick, fighting with all of those on Oahu, to do what was humane, decent and right for the afflicted people of Molokai.
Before his death on April 15, 1889 at the young age of 49, he had fought against the tyrannical Catholic dioceses and those who controlled Hawaii, who did little to help him or them and forced them to change.
His body at the request of King Leopold III, was returned to Belgium to his place of birth, in January of 1936.
In 1995, his right hand was given back to the Hawaiian people to be buried in his grave on Molokai.
Long after his death, Father Damien was finally made a Saint in 2009.
Never has there been one who was more deserving of this, than Father Damien, the Apostle of the Lepers.
Places to learn more: