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The Spirit of Father Damien The Leper Priest-A Saint for Our Times - by Jan de Volder

Item Number: 25182

Catalog Code: SPD-P

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Spirit of Father Damien The Leper Priest-A Saint for Our Times

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Foreword by John Allen 

Father Damien, famous for his missionary work with exiled lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, is finally Saint Damien. His sanctity took 120 years to become officially recognized, but between his death in 1889 and his canonization in 2009—amid creeping secularization and suspicion of the missionary spirit he so much embodied—Fr. Damien De Veuster never faded from the world’s memory. What kept him there? What keeps him there now?

To find an answer, Belgian historian and journalist Jan De Volder sifted through Father Damien’s personal correspondence as well as the Vatican archives. With careful and even-handed expertise, De Volder follows Father Damien’s transformation from the stout, somewhat haughty missionary of his youth, bounding from Europe to Hawaii and straight into seemingly tireless priestly work, to the humble and loving shepherd of souls who eventually succumbed to the same disease that ravaged his flock.

De Volder finds that—as spiritual father, caretaker, teacher, and advocate—Father Damien accomplished many heroic feats for these poor outcasts. Yet the greatest gift he gave them was their transformation from a disordered, lawless throng exiled in desperate anarchy into a living community built on Jesus Christ, a community in which they learned to care for one another.

Every generation seems to have its own image of this world-famous priest. Already during his life on Molokai and at his death in 1889, many considered him a holy man. Even today, in the highly secularized Western world, he is widely admired. In 2005 his native Belgium honored him with the title "the greatest Belgian" in polling conducted by their public broadcasting service. Statues honor his memory in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and at the entrance to the Hawaiian State Capitol in Honolulu. In 1995, in the presence of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II beatified him in Brussels, Belgium; and in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI canonized him in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Today Father Damien is the unofficial patron of outcasts and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

De Volder contends that the common thread running through the saint’s life, the spirit of Father Damien that so speaks to the world, is at once uniquely Christian, fully human, and as important today as ever before. Illustrated with many photos.


Jan De Volder lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. He has an MA in Romance Literature and Languages and a PhD in Social and Religious History. He is political editor of the Flemish Catholic weekly Tertio. Each week he writes articles on religion, culture, politics, and society. As such, he often comments on Church and social issues on radio and television. He is an active member of the Community of Sant’Egidio.

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St. Damien of Molokai

St. Damien of Molokai Feast Day:
Roman Rite Calendar - 05/10

Patron Of: Lepers, Against Leprosy

Also Known As

    * Apostle to the Lepers
    * Damian de Veuster
    * Father Damien
    * Joseph de Veuster

    * 10 May


    Son of a small farmer. Studied at the college at Braine-le-Comte, Belgium. Joined the Picpus Fathers on 7 October 1860, taking the name Damien. Seminarian in Paris, France. Volunteered for missionary work while still in seminary, and was sent to Hawaii. Ordained in Honolulu on 24 May 1864. Missionary on islands where his single parish was the size of all of his native Belgium. Resident priest in the leper colony on Molokai where for years he worked alone to minister to the patients’ spiritual and medical needs. His work turned a wretched dump for the unwanted into a real community with the best treatment of the day, and patients who lived strong spiritual lives. He contracted leprosy in 1885, and though severely crippled by the disease, Father Damien worked until the end.


    * 3 January 1840 on the family farm at Tremeloo, Belgium as Joseph de Veuster


    * 15 April 1889 at Molokai, Hawaii from leprosy
    * buried next to Saint Philomena Church, Molokai, Hawaii
    * interred in the cathedral at Antwerp, Belgium in 1936


    * 7 July 1977 by Pope Paul VI (decree of heroic virtues)


    * 3 June 1995 by Pope John Paul II


    * 11 October 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI


    * against leprosy
    * lepers

All information used with permission of the Patron Saint Index.

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