May 8, 2011 / 05:55 am
The Catholic Church will remember St. Damien of Molokai on May 10. The Belgian priest sacrificed his life and health to become a spiritual father to the victims of leprosy quarantined on a Hawaiian island.
Joseph de Veuser, who later took the name Damien in religious life, was born into a farming family in the Belgian town of Tremlo in 1840. During his youth he felt a calling to become a Catholic missionary, an urge that prompted him to join the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Damien's final vows to the congregation involved a dramatic ceremony in which his superiors draped him in the cloth that would be used to cover his coffin after death. The custom was meant to symbolize the young man's solemn commitment, and his identification with Christ's own death. For Damien, the event would become more significant, as he would go on to lay down his life for the lepers of Molokai.
His superiors originally intended to send Damien's brother, a member of the same congregation, to Hawaii. But he became sick, and Damien arranged to take his place. Damien arrived in Honolulu in 1864, less than a century after Europeans had begun to establish a presence in Hawaii. He was ordained a priest the same year.