St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, SS.CC., is our featured saint for May during this Year of Faith.
He was born on January 3, 1840, in Tremelo, Belgium. He quit school at the age of thirteen to help his poor parents on their farm. At the age of nineteen, he entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, also known as the Picpus Fathers. During his studies for the priesthood, he prayed to St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionaries, every day asking for his intercession that he would become a missionary. His prayers were answered three years later when his brother Auguste, who was also a Picpus Father, fell ill and could not be sent to the Hawaiian Islands as planned. Damien went in his brother’s place.
Damien arrived at the harbor of Honolulu on the island of Oahu on March 19, 1864. He was ordained a priest on May 21 that same year. In 1873, Bishop Louis Désiré Maigret, the vicar apostolic, asked for volunteers among priests serving in the Hawaiian Islands to go to Molokai to minister to the lepers there. Damien volunteered. When he arrived, he found the people’s morale in a deplorable state. Nevertheless, “under his leadership, basic laws were enforced, shacks became painted houses, working farms were organized, and schools were established” (Wikipedia, “Father Damien,” accessed 3 May 2013). Morale improved. “Six months after his arrival…he wrote his brother,…in Europe: ‘…I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.’” (Wikipedia, “Father Damien,” accessed 3 May 2013).
In 1884, Damien contracted leprosy, but set himself to finishing many projects for the people. He died on April 15, 1889, at the age of 49. He is one of two Catholic priests whose statues are on display in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol (the other is Bl. Junipero Serra). His feast day is May 10.
St. Damien, pray for us.