During the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, Molokai was infamous for what was then referred to as a leper colony. While it is not known when Hansen’s disease first came to Hawaii, in 1866 the Hawaiian monarchy began transporting the afflicted to Molokai’s isolated north coast peninsula, Makanalua (“The Given Grave”). The isolated settlement there, called Kalaupapa, was made internationally famous by Father Damien de Veuster, a Belgian priest who came to the settlement in 1873 to help those stricken by the disease. He ministered to these forgotten people until he, too, contracted the disease and died in 1889. Blessed Damien de Veuster’s reputation as the “Martyr of Molokai” has made him one of Hawaii’s most beloved heroes. He was canonized on Oct. 11, 2009, by Pope Benedict XVI, making him the
first Hawaii priest elevated to sainthood. www.damienchurchmolokai.org Not until the 1940s was Hansen’s disease brought under control by sulfone drugs. Today, fewer than 20 patients remain in Kalaupapa and, unlike the patients of the 19th century, they are free to come and go as they please. St. Philomena Church was the focal point of Saint Damien’s activities. The church, located in Kalaupapa National Historical Park, was built in 1872, and, in recent years, it was in need of extensive repairs. A group of concerned citizens called The Friends of Father Damien launched a major effort in the 1980s to raise funds for the repair work, which cost about $500,000. The refurbishment was completed in April 1989, the 100th anniversary of the saint’s death.
Photos by Makani Kai Air; Brett Uprichard