Wednesday, October 7, 2009

SAINT DAMIEN: He made it easier to believe.

Children's art work depicting scenes from Father Damien's life - on display in the Damien Birthplace Museum in Tremelo, Belgium.

Confession: I don't really like the word "saint". It conjures up images of people too religious to be any earthly good. But if the Vatican has decided that Father Damien is a saint, then there must be another definition at work.

Because that man did a world of good.

He offered compassion to the desolate leprosy patients of Hawaii. He empowered them to improve their situation, hassled them as needed, and shared his food and pipe with them. He gave his life for them. He got their disease.

Before him, there'd been a few non-patients who lived or did religious work in the settlement but they were either transient or came as helpers to family members . Father Damien was the first to voluntarily stay in Kalawao and serve all its residents. He inspired others to do the same.

Joseph Dutton showed up one day, said he'd come to help, and proceeded to spend the rest of his life (45 more years) on the six squares miles of Kalaupapa Peninsula.

Dutton describes his first encounter with Father Damien.

He was now a leper in the advanced stage... The Father talked eagerly,... he called me "Brother," as I had come to stay, and gave me at once the full care of two churches. He was full of plans that morning, talking of what he wished for the lepers.

Joseph Dutton was a striking figure - a tall muscular man in a blue demin suit. He was neat and clean even after a "hot dusty trip."

There was little water in the leprosy settlement and Father Damien constantly hustled from one menial task to another. He was impulsive and careless about appearances so he must've looked like a mess much of the time. Probably the sort of person a lot of us would pull away from.

Brother Dutton wrote of him:

There were times when one did not care to be too much with Father Damien; that should be said. But there was love between us. This is not to say that our tastes and personal habits were the same, it would not be correct to say that.

He goes on to talk about repugnances. He doesn't get specific but I suspect that Father Damien never looked like the white robed, haloed image that seems to go with sainthood.

I'm not entirely sure what all defines a saint in the Catholic tradition. I know there must be evidence of a holy life and also of miracles.

In my tradition, a saint is someone who lives what he believes. As William Barclay put it, "A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God."

Just one reason why Father Damien will become Saint Damien on October 11, 2009. And it also explains why he inspired me to write Healing Water!

Quotations from The Heart of Father Damien by Vital Jourdain, S.S. C.C.


  1. "A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God."

    I love this! Good thought to think about.

  2. Joyce, I thought of your book as soon as I heard the news about Saint Damien. So glad to read all this extra information and see the photos on your blog!