Saint Damien of Molokai

FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER

Word of Saint Damienís heroic labors among the lepers on Molokai quickly spread after his death.

Saint Damien
1840-1889

Last Sunday, Pope Benedict raised to the altars five new saints: Zygmunt Szczesny Felin'ski (1822-1895), archbishop of Warsaw; Francisco Coll y Guitard (1812-1875), a Dominican priest; Jozef Damiaan De Veuster, (1840-1889), priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Rafael Arnáiz Barón (1911-1938), a Trappist religious; and Marie de la Croix (Jeanne) Jugan (1792-1879), founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Jeanne Jugan's homes for the infirm elderly are now in 32 countries, and some of their selfless work is in our own archdiocese. A statue of Saint Damien represents the state of Hawaii in the United States Capitol building. Word of his heroic labors among the lepers on Molokai quickly spread after his death. Theodore Roosevelt instructed the sixteen battleships of the Great White Fleet to dip their flags as they passed Damien's grave. In 1934, Roosevelt's fifth cousin Franklin sent a U.S. naval vessel to transport the body to its native Belgium, where it was received by the King, the Cardinal-Archbishop, and 100,000 people who hailed Father Damien as "De Grootste Belge" -- the Greatest Belgian. One day at Mass, Father Damien spoke to his outcast congregation as "we," for he had contracted the disease himself. Now known as Hansen's Disease, leprosy can be treated with drugs first developed in the 1940s. There still are about 2.5 million Hansen's patients in the world. About 75 lepers could be cured for the average cost of one cosmetic "face lift" in New York City.

When Jesus told a young man, perhaps the same age as Damien when he arrived in Hawaii, to get rid of everything that blocked God, "his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Mark 10: 22). Christ the Saviour is not a cosmetic surgeon. At the Mass, he does not say, "Lift up your faces," for he bids the people: "Sursum Corda" -- "Lift up your hearts." St. Damien's face was most beautiful when it became disfigured like the Messiah's: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid our faces from him...." (Isaiah 53:3).

Among Father Damien's despisers was a wealthy Presbyterian missionary in Honolulu, the Rev. Dr. Hyde who, in a letter in 1890 to another missionary, the Rev. H.B. Gage, wrote that the Catholic priest was dirty, headstrong, bigoted, and promiscuous. Robert Louis Stevenson, himself a fair-minded Scots Presbyterian, had visited the leper colony. Upon reading the attack on Father Damien, he published a scorching reply to Dr. Hyde, which included the words: "For if that world at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be named a saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H.B. Gage." In St. Peter's Square, 119 years later, that prediction was fulfilled.

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father George William Rutler. Weekly Column for October 18, 2009.

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.

THE AUTHOR

Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 16 books, including: Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2009 Father George W. Rutler




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