Any Catholic of my age had to be inspired by the priest nicknamed: Fr. Damián The Leper. I say my age, as his life and story were legendary during my years growing up.
The human spirit is always inspired by men and women who reach out in total commitment to the suffering, sick, and poor, and this is certainly true for the priest named, Father Damián de Veuster. Fr. Damián not only inspired Catholics, but I believe, he inspired a generation of North Americans, Europeans, and populations around the world.
In 1936 Time Magazine wrote:
When, in 1873, an obscure young Belgian missionary priest named Father Damien begged the Catholic Prefect Apostolic of the Hawaiian Islands to send him to a leper colony 50 miles away, the name of Molokai meant nothing to the outside world. Molokai is an island to which the Hawaiian Government had exiled all its lepers after a frightful outbreak of the disease, a lawless chaos whose 800 foul inhabitants lived a slow death in huts, with only one another’s company and the sweet intoxicating juice of the ki tree for distraction. Father Damien changed that, and in so doing made himself and Molokai famed.
With help only from the few lepers who were not ready for the grave, he built cottages, an aqueduct, schools, a church, a dispensary. A husky peasant, the missionary dressed the rotting sores of his wards. Mildly he wrote a brother at home that he felt “some repugnance” in hearing confession of the near-dead, that he scarce knew how to administer Extreme Unction since it involved anointing hands and feet that were “raw wounds.”
After eleven years at the Molokai leper colony, Father Damien one Sunday addressed his congregation not with his usual “Brethren,” but “We lepers.” During the next five years his face took on the leper’s look, leonine, patchy, with fierce eyes and thick lips. In 1889 Father Damien died, aged 49. His people buried him in the churchyard.
On May 7, 1984
Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote to Pope John Paul II about the lepers her sisters were nursing in India, Yemen, Ethiopia and Tanzania:
‘In order to continue this beautiful work of love and healing, we need a saint to lead and protect us. Father Damián can be this saint. Holy Father, our lepers and everyone on earth beg you to give us a saint, a martyr to love, an example of obedience to our religion.’
On February 18, 2009
Mother Teresa’s prayer, hope and request was finally granted: