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St. Damien of Molokai

3. March 2010

Though he is a saint of the Americas, the island of Molokai in Hawaii, St. Damien was born Joseph de Veuster in Belgium.

But as conditions deteriorated in the Islands, Providence was preparing a response. Hawaii’s first case of leprosy is said to have been confirmed in 1840. On January 3 of that year, Joseph de Veuster was born in a tiny farming village in Belgium. He was the seventh of eight children. Despite poverty, his childhood seems to have been happy. He was pulled out of school at age 13 to work on the family farm, but five years later his father sent him off for more education to prepare for a future dealing grain.

Although Flemish-speaking Joseph quickly learned French, the language of his new school, he was beginning to consider a quite different destiny. Two of his sisters had become Ursuline nuns and his older brother—now called Pamphile—had joined a French religious order, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Pamphile dissuaded Joseph from pursuing a vocation with the Trappists and helped him gain admission to the Sacred Hearts Fathers at Louvain. Joseph took the habit as Brother Damien soon after his 19th birthday in 1859. Thanks to Pamphile’s tutelage in Latin, Damien convinced his superiors to allow him to study for the priesthood. read more

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