Discovering The Heart Of A Saint Who Is Hawaii’s Hero

by Saints

Growing up on Molokai, just a stone’s throw from the Kalaupapa Peninsula – a place that once echoed with the solitude of lepers banished from society – I discovered a story that tugged at my heartstrings.  A story by Gavin Dawes, “The Holy Man,” revealed to me the profound compassion of St. Damien, a man whose legacy is little known outside of Hawaii, including many of those on Molokai itself. The Kalaupapa peninsula is separated from the rest of Moloka’i by 1600-foot vertical cliffs, and the ocean is full of strong currents. It is difficult to get to and for those left there, difficult to escape from. It was Damien’s willingness to leave all that he loved behind and serve those abandoned and forgotten that deeply impressed me. I see him as the perfect example of living Christ’s last commandment, “to love one another as I have loved you.” I often reflect on what I will be remembered for when I am gone. I hope “kindness” will be at the top of that list. 

St. Damien Arrives In Hawaii

Imagine leaving everything you know behind at just 22 years old to embark on a journey to an unknown land. That’s exactly what St. Damien did on October 30, 1863, sailing to Hawaii with a heart full of courage and determination. His calling didn’t stop; ten years later, he made his way to Kalaupapa, dedicating 16 years of his life to those who society had turned their backs on.

In his first six years at Kalaupapa, Damien accomplished what many of us couldn’t fathom – digging graves and building coffins for 1,600 people, constructing over 300 homes and structures without modern tools or easy access to supplies.  His roles were many: advocate, carpenter, healer, teacher, choirmaster, and so much more. But above all, he was a beacon of love and compassion. His role as an advocate has certainly influenced my life in many aspects. I find myself being an advocate in several areas, such as the arts and mental health issues.

St. Damien’s efforts weren’t unnoticed. His activism and heartfelt letter-writing campaigns drew global attention, support, and admiration. From swiftly spending donations on essentials for the children and community to mastering five languages – Flemish, French, Latin, English, and Hawaiian – to communicate better and serve. St. Damien’s life was a testament to his extraordinary character.

“I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”

St. Damien of Molokai

How Hawaii Celebrates St. Damien

Here on Molokai, St. Damien is not just remembered; he’s celebrated. On May 10, our parish celebrates Damien’s Feast Day, which also marks the date of his arrival in Kalaupapa. Novenas take place daily on the days leading up to the Feast Day. Many have relatives who lived on Kalaupapa because of leprosy, which makes the connection to St. Damien and his work very deep and filled with gratitude. His story, one of unwavering dedication and selfless love, inspires us and echoes the true spirit of humanity. Let’s honor this remarkable hero by sharing his legacy far and wide.

“Without the constant presence of Our Divine Master upon the altar in my poor chapels, I never could have persevered casting my lot with the lepers of Molokai”

St. Damien of Molokai

Keep Learning About St. Damien

Damien of Molokai: Builder of Community (Saints and Me!)

Video presentation on the life of St. Damien

St. Damien of Molokai: Apostle of the Exiled

*Writer’s note on accompanying image: The text behind Damien in this image is one of the many letters he wrote to the powers that be. The name of this piece is called The Advocate.

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