by Virginia Helen Richards, FSP
Saint Damien won a reputation for his ministry to people suffering from leprosy, who were placed under medical quarantine on the Island of Molokai in Hawaii.
Saint Damien was born Jozef de Veuster, on January 3, 1840, to a Flemish corn merchant in Belgium. He entered the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary and after his novitiate was sent to Hawaii to serve as a missionary. When he arrived in Honolulu, in March, 1864, Damien found Hawaii in the midst of a public health crisis. In 1865, the Hawaiian Government passed measures calling for the relocation of leprosy patients to the Island of Molokai. There the Hawaiian Government built a village, provided food and supplies for growing crops. However, the village soon fell into disrepair.
Bishop Louis Desire Maigret asked for priests to see to the physical and spiritual needs of the lepers and he called for volunteers. Saint Damien was one of four priests who volunteered. He arrived on Molokai on May 10, 1873, and stayed until his death eleven years later in 1884.
Those who read the life of St. Damien will learn to see others as he saw them. Damien saw the dignity and beauty of each person he served, where others saw only pain and misery. He saw others as brothers and sisters and offered people new hope. Those who read the life of Damien are inspired to recognize the needs of people around them and offer them assistance, even when it is difficult.