Father Damien Redeems the Lepers of Hawaii

  • Overseas
  • 1873

Through human history, leprosy has been one of the most supremely feared diseases, sometimes known as “the death before death.” When the affliction reached the Hawaiian Islands, every victim was forced to relocate to a remote and completely wild peninsula where he or she was dumped with some seeds and a few tools and ever thereafter cut off from the outside world. Many of these quarantined persons were starving, filthy, and living in squalid huts made of nothing but branches when a Catholic priest named Joseph Damien de Veuster volunteered to serve the eight-year-old leper colony in 1873. He provided medical care, pressed lepers to plant gardens, built public structures, rescued orphans, fought off anti-social residents, and saw to it that people who died were properly buried (1,600 funerals and handmade animal-proof coffins in his first six years).

Damien energetically dispatched fundraising letters that pulled in the donations that funded his improvements, first from church parishioners, then from citizens who read his accounts in newspapers, eventually from the Hawaiian royal family, and from people in many lands inspired by his story. He also attracted other volunteer priests and nuns from America. At the age of 49, Father Damien died of complications from leprosy.

Mentioned on this page