Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Series: Heroes & Saints

The altar that Father Damien built for one of the churches on Molokai, HI.

I decided to make Sundays a day to blog about people who've accomplished great things. I was working on a post about Sister Elizabeth Kenny when I suddenly realized that today is Saint Damien's birthday.

So I'll continue the Sister Kenny post later. It's just as well since I was getting sidetracked into reading her biography all over again.

As for Father Damien, I've certainly blogged about him before and enough is enough, I suppose.

Father Damien Birthplace Museum which I visited in May 2007

So how about a few crucial dates from Damien's life, a few images, some info about his right hand, and a couple of links?

January 3, 1840 - Born in Tremeloo, Belgium
March 19, 1864 - Arrived in Hawaii
May 10, 1873 - Arrived in leprosy settlement on Molokai
April 15, 1889 - Died of complications related to leprosy

Aerial photo used with permission by James H. Brocker, author of The Lands of Father Damien. (A fabulous book!)

When Damien died in Hawaii's leprosy settlement, he was buried beside the church in this photo. But his homeland of Belgium wanted his body and in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt agreed to return it.

Then in 1995 when he was beautified (second step on journey to sainthood) the remains of his right hand were returned to Hawaii.
Damien's coffin now on display at his birthplace museum in Tremeloo, Belgium.

I used to imagine that they simply cut his hand off. But, when I visited the Damien Birthplace Museum, one of my Healing Water experts, Father Paul Macken explained. Damien's body arrived in Belgium in the coffin pictured above. When they opened the coffin, his body disintegrated. So they separated the remains into 11 zinc boxes. One of them contained the bones of his right hand.

Here are Google Image results for Damien - there are some really great ones.

And there is loads and loads of info along with a myriad of pictures at this Damien related blog.

Oh, and DO check out this virtual tour of some Damien sites. Don't be shy. Click on the word Flash to see a 360 degree image. (Unfortunately a few are labeled wrong and you get mules when you wanted to see Damien's birthplace but there are some fabulous images that are worth exploring!)


  1. Joyce, I loved the "character" of Father Damien in your book. Now I'm wondering, did you first start learning about him through the research for your other books--with the Roosevelt connection?

  2. Becky, I discovered Father Damien when I was writing Vacation Bible School curriculum. I was looking for a more contemporary story to serve as companion to the Biblical story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy. A Hawaiian friend told me about Damien. I began researching and was hooked. That's actually when my interest in historical fiction began.

    So Damien sparked Healing Water for me.

    Later I discovered polio and Roosevelt. But Healing Water took me much longer to research, write, rewrite etc.