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 Joseph Damien De Veuster

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Joseph Damien De Veuster

  • Birth 3 Jan 1840 Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant), Belgium
  • Death 15 Apr 1889 Kalaupapa, Kalawao County, Hawaii, USA
  • Burial Leuven, Arrondissement Leuven, Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant), Belgium
  • Memorial ID 8858

Roman Catholic Saint. The man who gave his life for the lepers of Hawaii. Joseph de Veuster was born to a farm family in Tremeloo, Belgium. Opting to follow in his brother's and sister's footsteps into a religious vocation, he entered religious life as a lay brother assuming the name of Damien after a physician-saint from the fourth century. Volunteering to join his order at the Sacred Hearts Mission in Hawaii, he arrived and was ordained a Catholic priest in Honolulu with an assignment to the leper colony located on the Kalaupapa peninsula, a site chosen because it is surrounded by ocean on three sides and cut off from the rest of the island by steep cliffs-accessible only by boat. Father Damien had been at Kalaupapa for twelve years, touching the bodies of dying lepers as he administered the last rites, hugging small, sick children, while seeking physical and financial aid when he discovered, he too, had leprosy. During this time he built cottages for the lepers, roads, a wharf, and an orphanage. He installed a water system still in use. And, of course conducted 6,000 funerals while personally constructing some 2,000 coffins. Father Damien made no changes in his life. He became terribly disfigured but continued his work. A few months before his death, his prayers were answered with the arrival of his replacements, Mother Marianne Cope and several nuns, trained nurses who were able to attend to his physical needs and make him comfortable. With her at his side, he was gone at age 49. A mass was celebrated in the tiny church of St. Philomena which was constructed years before by a Sacred Heart brother. He was carried to his grave by leper coffin bearers to a spot under a nearby pandanus tree where upon his arrival with no luggage and a simple prayer book, slept until shelters were completed for himself and every leper in the colony. His body was moved to Belgium, his birth country in 1936, On June 4, 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified him leaving but one step remaining toward sainthood. At that time, a relic bone from his right hand was sent to Kalaupapa and reinterred in the empty grave beside the small chapel of St. Philomena. Honolulu's Damien Memorial High School carries his name, while the Damien Museum located on the grounds of St. Augustine Church in Waikiki is a popular destination of visitors who continue on to Molokai to see where Father Damien lived and worked. Countless books have been written and a full length feature film on his life story is in the making. He will be canonized as a Roman Catholic saint on October 11, 2009.

Bio by: Donald Greyfield





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 13 Mar 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 8858
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Joseph Damien De Veuster (3 Jan 1840–15 Apr 1889), Find A Grave Memorial no. 8858, citing Sint-Antoniuskapel, Leuven, Arrondissement Leuven, Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant), Belgium ; Maintained by Find A Grave .