Leper Priest of Moloka'i: The Father Damien Storyby Richard Stewart
When a leprosy epidemic gripped the Hawaiian Islands in the 1860s, near panic ensued. All that was known about this grossly disfiguring disease was that it was contagious, incurable, and preventable only by the banishment of those afflicted. Lepers thus became the "untouchables" and were taken from their families and exiled to Moloka'i's remote Kalaupapa peninsula. There, confined to a squalid settlement plagued by food and water shortages, a place where there was no professional medical care, no clergy, and no law, they lived out their meager lives while awaiting lonely deaths.
Then in May 1873, a young priest arrived at the settlement. Father Damien De Veuster had voluntarily become the first resident clergyman and part-time physician for the leper colony. Living among the lepers, Damien knowingly took the risk of direct physical contact thousands of times, administering the sacraments and cleaning and bandaging wounds, while he pursued his dream of turning Kalaupapa into a vital community. Hailed around the world as a heroic Christian martyr, he was decorated by the Hawaiian Kingdom for his service and celebrated by Robert Louis Stevenson in an eloquent and stirring testimonial.
Leper Priest of Moloka'i traces the life of Father Damienfrom his boyhood in rural Belgium to his death at the leper settlement after sixteen years of remarkable accomplishments. Damien overcame major obstacles to become a Catholic priest and serve as a missionary in Hawai'i. To his spiritual ministry he added the practice of medicine and the skill of a master builder of chapels, churches, and houses, both professions that he taught himself. He decried human suffering, and in his medical practice he emulated the example of his patron saint, Saint Damien the physician, who led many to Christianity by the example of the Good Samaritan.
This biography presents and analyzes much new information about Damien and his years in Hawai'i. The correspondence among Damien, his colleagues in the Catholic church, his Protestant supporters, and agents of the Hawaiian Board of Health gives a fuller understanding of the extent of Damien's work at the settlement and the tensions underlying his relations with Church bureaucrats, who were both impressed by his energy and zeal and irritated by his willfulness and independence. But even his detractors could not deny that he was almost singlehandedly responsible for tremendous improvements to Kalaupapa in the face of overwhelming odds. This is the story of one humble man with faith in God and in himself, who faced gargantuan challenges and triumphed.
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