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Hawaii’s Father Damien: From priesthood to sainthood

Damien_Hawaii_Saint_Molokai_Kalaupapa_canonizationDamien spent nine years on the Big Island—studying the Hawaiian language, eating poi, building churches and baptizing new converts. He was a strong athlete who could climb rocky cliffs, trek through lava fields and scale 10 ravines to get to his parishioners.

While Damien was still on the Big Island, King Kamehameha V (pictured left) approved An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy. The 1865 decree forcibly relocated Hawaii’s Hansen’s disease patients to Molokai’s Kalaupapa peninsula. Patients were simply dropped off and left to survive on their own in the desolate, lawless place.

Catholic patients at Kalaupapa repeatedly pleaded for a priest. At the end of 1872, Father Aubert Bouillon of Maui asked Bishop Maigret if he could go to the peninsula town of Kalawao. His request was denied: Going to the peninsula could be a death sentence.

In the spring of 1873, the bishop decided that, despite the risk, the peninsula’s patients needed a priest. Damien and three other young priests volunteered to serve Kalawao on a rotating basis. Damien was the first to go—and the only one to stay.

On May 10, 1873, Damien arrived at Kalaupapa on a ship from Maui. With no place to go, Damien lived and slept outside under a pu hala (pandanus tree) in Kalawao near St. Philomena Church, which had been previously built by Sacred Hearts brother Victorin Bertrant in 1872. Damien had already encountered Hansen’s disease in the Kohala district in the late 1860s. Many of his afflicted parishioners there had been shipped off to Kalawao.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
Pope clears Father Damien for sainthood
Father Damien’s sainthood: Here's the complete TV and relic tour schedule
Pope clears for sainthood nun who cared for Hansen's Disease patients on Molokai

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