Damien was born Jozef de Veuster in Belgium in January, 1840. He had a devout Catholic family with two sisters and a brother preceding him into Religious communities. Like his brother, Auguste, he entered the Society of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Possessing a devotion to St. Francis Xavier, and longing to become a missionary, Damien got his wish in 1864. When Auguste became gravely ill prior to leaving for the Kingdom of Hawaii, it was Damien who volunteered to take his place. On March 19th of that year he landed by ship at the harbor in Honolulu. Upon his ordination two months later, he was sent to minister in several parishes in Oahu. It was an unexpectedly short mission. Just one year after Damien arrived in Oahu, an outbreak of leprosy among native Hawaiians ravaged the country. The King, fearing the continued spread of the disease and hoping to contain it, established a separate colony on Molokai for those who had been afflicted.
Damien responded to the bishop’s call for a priest to care for the spiritual needs of the lepers on Molokai, knowing it could be a death sentence. He arrived on Molokai in 1873 and immediately set out to improve sanitary conditions there, building better houses and teaching the people to help him minister to the sick. Patiently, he washed and bandaged sores, attended to the dying, dug graves, and became an example of hope to the lepers. Damien’s arrival was a turning point in the history of Molokai, and within a year the colony was thriving.
The service and successes would have a high price. Damien contracted leprosy in December of 1884 and opened his sermon at Mass on Christmas Day with the words, “We lepers…” At that point, the people of the area knew he too would remain with them until his death. Damien passed into the Lord’s hands on April 15, 1889, and his reputation spread both in Europe and the United States.
Cross Catholic Outreach is dedicated to helping modern-day saints who – like St. Damien of Molokai – serve outcasts of society, particularly the poorest of the poor. Damien’s dedication is an inspiration to Cross Catholic Outreach in helping extend the Gospel message to those in greatest need, and those who contribute to our mission which allows this work to continue. Their generosity, like St. Damien of Molokai’s life of service, makes a profound difference in the world!
Fr. Ron Mrozinski