Saint Damien, Servant of God and Servant of Humanity, is a remarkable model for our time. Joseph de Veuster was born in Tremelo, Belgium, on Jan. 3, 1840. He entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Louvain in 1859, following in the footsteps of his older brother.

He took the name Damien. In 1863, his brother, who was to leave for the Hawaiian Islands, became ill and Damien took his place. He arrived in Honolulu on March 19, 1864, and was ordained at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on May 21, 1864.

He first was sent to be a country missionary on the Island of Hawaii, but in 1873 responded to a request from Bishop Louis Maigret and volunteered to minister to the people of the Hawaiian Kingdom who were exiled to Kalaupapa on Moloka’i because they had leprosy, now known at Hansen’s Disease.

Damien saw to both the spiritual needs and the temporal needs of the people of Kalaupapa. He dressed ulcers, built churches and homes and coffin. He organized schools and farms and saw to it that laws were enforced.

In 1884 Damien contracted leprosy. For the remainder of his life, Damien was a fearless advocate for his people. In a letter to his brother, Pamphile, he wrote “…I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.

He died on April 15, 1889, and was laid to rest next to St. Philomena Church in Kalawao among his beloved lepers. In 1936, his remains were returned to his native land at the request of the Belgian Government. He was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1977, beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

He served for 16 years in Kalaupapa, but his legacy as a hero of charity will serve as a model for generations to come.

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