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Saint Damien Hawaii’s First Saint

Saint Damien Church
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

2 Responses to “Saint Damien Hawaii’s First Saint”

  1. 'Victor T. Wayland,DDS

    My name is Dr. Victor T. Wayland (pediatric dentistry,retired). I am a graduate of Maryknoll High School(class of 1945). Your recent article on Father Damien brought back fond memories first, as a very young Marynoller, we lined up on Fort Street and solemly watched as his casket was led down to the Aloha tower where the ship waited to return him to Belgium. Later as a highschooler, as an asignment by our English teacher (Sister Mary Alma) we wrote and produced a program of his life on Molokai.The program was unique in that we had to produce a recording of the broadcast in order to persuade the Bishop to get us radio time on the upcoming “Damien’s Day. One of the students had a recording machine(78 vinyl?) which we used to cut the record. The Bishop listened and approved of our work and the program was aired on Damien’s Day. We were so proud of our accomplishment!

    • Winona

      Aloha Dr. Wayland. Thank you for your detailed outline about the day you lined up and watched his casket led down to Aloha Tower by your English teacher. We’re so glad our story could stir up such fond memories and that we can share your memories with our readers. Mahalo, Winona


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