St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai

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This photo of Fr. Damien, from the Hawai’i State Archives in Honolulu, Hawai’i, was taken in 1888, the year before his death, by William Brigham outside St. Philomena Church. (Public Domain/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

May 10

Born in Tremelo, Belgium, Joseph de Veuster left school at 13 to work on the family farm. Six years later he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, taking the name Damien.

He volunteered for a mission to the Hawai’ian Islands, and was ordained in Honolulu in 1864. He served on the island of Hawai’i for eight years, then volunteered in 1873 to work at the leprosy colony on Molokai. (Leprosy is now called Hansen’s disease.) Fr. Damien was a priest, doctor and counselor to 800 patients before he contracted the disease in 1884. He stayed on Molokai, ministering until a month before his death.

Considered a model and martyr of charity, he was canonized in 2009.

He is the patron saint of Hawai’i. A statue of St. Damien represents the state in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, one of four Catholic priests represented in the hall.