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in the Square outside the church of St. Jacques, rue de Bruxelles, 

Louvain, Belgium. 


* Let those who think I have said too little, or those 
who think I have said too much, forgive me ; and let 
those who think I have said just enough join me in 
giving thanks to God/ 



1840 (January 3rd) Birth at Tremeloo, near Lou* 


1859 (January 3rd) Joined Society of Sacred 

Hearts of Jesus and Mary, 

1863 (October) Left Europe as missionary to 


1864 (March) Landed at Honolulu, Hawaii, 
1873 (May) Left Hawaii for Molokai. 
1885 Stricken with leprosy. 

1889 (April 1 5th) Death at Molokai. 











Robert Louis Stevenson's Open Letter 
to the Reverend Dr. Hyde of Honolulu 

Lepers are the Flowers of Paradise, 
Pearls in the coronet of the Eternal King. 




IT was winter, the frost-bound winter of Flanders 
fields, when Joseph de Veuster came into the 
world. His appearance caused very little stir 
in the quiet red-tiled farmhouse with its wooden 
shutters, for he was the seventh child which his sturdy 
Flemish mother had brought into the world, and there 
was little time for sentiment in that hard-working 
household. The third of January, 1840, might mark 
for the world the arrival of a saint and martyr, but for 
his parents it meant another mouth to feed, though 
withal, for they were good and true, another little 
soul to love and cherish, and for his small brothers and 
sisters a real live doll to add zest to their games. 

The simple village home, that little farm at Tremeloo, 
six miles from Louvain, was situated between Aerschot 
and Malines, towns which in the next century wefe to 
weep tears of blood, wrecked and desecrated, but then 
lay smiling in the rich plain, treasure cities of art and 

England knows little, and often seems to care less, 
for Ihe smallholder, the little farmer like Francois de 
Veuster, who with the aid of his wife and family toils 
unceasingly in his ewn fields, often from dawn till 
dusk. Yet silent, sturdy, slow in his movements and 
conservative in his. mind, he can be the backbone of 
his country, the harbourer of its riches, for he loves 


the very soil with a deep, ingrained devotion, asking 
nothing better than to labour upon it till at length his 
bones, crippled with the rheumatism which is earth's 
final reward to her devotees, rest in its final embrace. 

Little Joseph first figured in the family history when 
the hour came for him to receive his name. His 
parents, Francois and Catherine de Veuster, seem to 
have had no special choice, but his godfather, a deeply 
pious old soldier, asked that he should be called 
JOSEPH, after his own patron, the head of the Holy 
Family. That settled the matter, and the tiny baby 
was carried to the village church to receive the name 
of that noble, gentle saint, chosen above all other men 
as the guardian of his Lord's infant years. 

From the first dawning of consciousness the child 
Joseph showed signs of a happy disposition, merry, 
yet quaint, richly endowed with the priceless gift of 
laughter, that great attribute of many a saint, the most 
potent medium for meeting the woes of life with 
courage* The joyous smile of Joseph de Veuster was 
to prove one of his greatest assets in aiding the agonised 
bodies and stricken souls of those who in after years 
would rise up and call him blessed. 

He was only four years old, a mere toddler whose 
little dark head did not reach as high as the golden 
ears of corn which waved around his fathers home- 
stead, when the first promise of that radiant life of the 
spirit first openly showed itself, which ultimately was 
to blossom to such gracious perfection. He had been 
lost since morning, and, search in Tremeloo having 
proved fruitless, it was remembered that the Kcrmess* 
was being held in a neighbouring village - the Ker- 
that gay, happy fair which in the country districts 


of Flanders so often synchronises with the feast of the 
patron saint, and, attracting folk from miles round, is 
even kept up with more or less enthusiasm for so long 
as three days, Joseph's distracted relations rushed 
frantically over the cobblestones of the old market 
square, among the roundabouts, the fortune-tellers, 
the stalls of fancy gingerbread, the shooting galleries, 
the booths of freaks, human and otherwise, questioning 
the rosy, smiling peasants in their stiff Sunday clothes, 
but nowhere could the child be found. It was at this 
point that his godfather, the fine old soldier who had 
insisted on his baptismal name, came to the rescue, 

" I will soon find our little Joseph,*' he said con- 
fidently. " I can guess where he is." 

Leaving the jostling, laughing crowd, the village 
band with its red, perspiring faces, the booths with their 
attractive wares, the old man turned aside into the 
village church, where all day long solitary figures had 
slipped from the noise and gaiety into the brooding 
peace of that ever-abiding Presence. The building was 
almost deserted now, but close up to the altar, Where 
in the darkening shadows the lamp hung like some 
great jewel before the Blessed Sacrament, knelt a 
solitary little figure. As the child's face turned, 
smiling up at his godfather, surely in the old man's 
mind the cry rang down the ages : 

" How is it that ye sought Me ? Wist ye not that 
I must be about My Father's business ? " 

As so often happens, Joseph's parents, the sturdy 
Flemish farmer and his wife, though devout and God- 
fearing folk, had not grasped the deeply spiritual 


temperament of their little son. Truly, there was much 
excuse for them, as this spirituality was extremely 
precocious, yet at the same time undoubtedly sincere. 
All children have a natural interest in religion ; the 
Gospel illustration of the children in the market-place 
playing at weddings and funerals before the eyes of the 
Divine Teacher is true of every country and every age, 
but in Joseph de Veuster's case it was not play, but 
intense reality. For all his happy disposition and 
quaint, laughing ways, his nature, so sensitive even in 
childhood to the Divine Call, caused him to weep 
bitterly at the least word of reproof for youthful 
carelessness, though never for one moment did this 
ultra-sensitiveness cause him to be unmanly either in 
thought or deed. 

Francois and Catherine de Veuster were worthy 
specimens of that land drenched so often by the blood 
of religious strife. Their Faith was in no watertight 
compartment, to be used only on Sundays or when 
kneeling beside their beds at night. They were son 
and daughter of the soil, earning their bread in the 
fields which formed their small estate, intensely 
religious, though unemotional, given to the silence 
which comes from solidity of character and the 
necessity for unceasing labour. 

An artist of the neighbouring country of France, 
Jean Francois Millet, has given us their portraits again 
and again, above all in the devout simplicity of his 
lovely * Angelus,' where the peasant workers bow their 
heads and clasp their hands as the sweet-toned bell of 
the A<ve Maria steals across the fields. 

That quiet home at Tremeloo makes a picture 
worthy of the brush of a Vermeer or Pieter de Hooch 


- the old Flemish kitchen with its stone floor and 
gleaming copper vessels, where the rosy, chubby faces 
of the Veuster children were reflected as they clustered 
round the mother's knee, the sacred prints upon the 
wall, the Crucifix and holy water stoup in the far 
corner. Seated in her old chair, her feet upon the 
sand-strewn floor, Catherine Veuster read stories of 
the saints and martyrs from the great book she held in 
her toil-worn hands - hands beautiful, not with the 
comeliness of shape or texture, but true mother's 
hands, red and roughened, made glorious with loving 

The children pressed closely to her, looking curi- 
ously at the heavy volume, two feet long and a foot and 
a half wide, with its quaint woodcuts and old Flemish 
type in thick black lettering they could not understand, 
which to their mother, daughter of an earlier genera- 
tion, was perfectly plain and clear. With childhood's 
insistence, they begged again and again for the self- 
same stories, and seven-year-old Joseph's merry face 
and deep eyes grew earnest and thoughtful. But of 
all those tales of heroism and adventure, of earthly 
torture and the glories of Paradise, the hermit saints, 
those strange, mystical sons of the desert, appealed 
most directly to their youthful imagination. It was 
much the same call of brave deeds, of getting close to 
primitive things, overshadowed by a high ideal, which 
to-day all unconsciously pervades the mind of the 
small Boy Scout as he starts on his first camp ; the 
spirit of tiny St. Theresa as she planned to leave her 
father's house in order to convert the Moors ; the 
mind of that pathetic, noble band of youth which 
inaugurated the Children's Crusade. 


St. Anthony the Anchorite, who dwelt alone in the 
Egyptian deserts, visited by devils and angels, spending 
the scorching days and burning nights in contempla- 
tion, most appealed to the de Veuster children. There 
was no desert in Belgium, with its waving cornfields, 
green pasture-lands, and giant windmills ; but make- 
believe is second nature to the very young, so that a 
charming little copse on the long walk to school was 
found to be of equal service. Turning aside beneath 
its leafy branches, satchels in hand, they knelt on the 
soft grass, with the birds chirping above their heads, 
determined to devote the rest of their lives to prayer 
and contemplation. In after years, when little Joseph's 
heroic life had finished its earthly course, his brother 
Augustus told of the determined way in which the 
seven-year-old child, youngest of them all, took to 
the hermit life. 

At noon, still in strict silence, they opened their 
satchels, eating the frugal dinner of bread and butter, 
their childish faces set in lines of whimsical gravity, 
their eyes round and full of awe. The birds chirped 
gaily in the branches above their heads, the brook 
danced beneath sunshine and shadow beside them, 
tiny furry dwellers in the wood moved stealthily 
around, but the children paid no heed* Perhaps in 
the intense reality of their make-believe they likened 
the merry birds to the angels who visited St. Anthony, 
the tiny creatures of the undergrowth to the devils who 
tormented him. 

The bread and butter consumed to the last crumb, 
each child again knelt upon the grass, entirely devoted 
to prayer and devotion until the shadows lengthened 
and the gold and crimson glory of the sunset 


penetrated even the thickness of the trees. But these 
things meant nothing to the young hermits ; they 
had solemnly bidden farewell to all earthly ties ; home, 
parents, friends, and school^ even their little white 
beds, were gone for ever. It was a sublime act of 
faith, for by this time they must have been extremely 
hungry, and the courageous little bodies were becom- 
ing as limp as the empty satchels flung on the grass 
beside them. 

But few are called to be hermits, and certainly the 
de Veuster family were not meant to be among their 
number, for at nine o'clock a passer-by, observing the 
children, hurriedly acquainted their distracted parents, 
so that it was not long before the youthful followers 
of St. Anthony were being escorted home to supper 
and to bed. 

Joseph, though beloved by all who knew him, was 
never fond of rough games with other boys ; his 
mystical, sympathetic character delighted more in 
roaming the fields with the shepherds, spending long 
hours playing with the lambs* His fondness for the 
sheep, especially his tender handling of the lambs, as 
they gambolled on the grass with their absurdly tall, 
stiff legs, caused him to be known as h Petit Btrger 
the c Little Shepherd/ The prophetic symbolism of 
this name must have been realised by many of his com- 
panions in after years. 

Love of animals and affinity with them is a beautiful 
characteristic of many of the saints - the case of St. 
Francis of Assisi and the wolf being an excellent ex- 
ample. A remarkable story of Joseph de Veuster 


when a boy shows another phase in his sympathy with 
the animal world. Every day on his way to school, 
laughing gaily with his comrades, he passed a tiny 
cottage where there lived a widow and her family 
whose livelihood depended almost entirely upon a cow, 
her solitary possession. Great was Joseph's sympathy 
on hearing that the precious animal was ill, so ill that 
the doctor had given up all hope for its life. Joseph, 
running into the cottage, spoke with kindly, gentle 
words to the distracted woman, telling her he would 
like to endeavour to save the cow during the coming 
night. Permission being gladly given, the little school- 
boy went to the shed where the suffering creature lay 
in a most unhappy position, for the doctor had just 
turned away in despair and the butcher stood over her, 
his deadly knife gleaming in his hand. 

In a few words Joseph offered his services, explain- 
ing that if the animal had to be put to death the deed 
could be done equally well in the morning. Both 
doctor and butcher knew the Little Shepherd's love 
for animals, and quickly consented to leave the sick 
beast in his merciful hands. But first, with an inward 
shudder, he possessed himself of the knife, prepared to 
use it should his patient's sufferings become intoler- 
able. Left alone, the little schoolboy watched in the 
gloomy shed, with no companionship but the flicker- 
ing light of the lantern and the dumb, agonised eyes 
of the stricken animal. None can tell what form his 
ministrations took during the long hours of that dreary 
night ; it is certain he was not unmindful of One who 
was born in a stable amid the humble beasts, for in the 
morning, when they sought him, the cow was so far on 
the road to recovery that within a very few days she 


was restored to her usual condition of bovine content- 

This intense love of the animal world is also shown 
by an earlier incident, though unfortunately in this 
case the small Joseph's kindness of heart was much 
abused. School being some way from home, Madame 
de Veuster provided the children with generous help- 
ings of bread and butter, which they ate during the 
luncheon hour, on the premises. Let it be said at once 
that, although this sounds a very frugal repast, it was 
not the dry bread and margarine of modern youth, but 
slices from long, crisp rolls, spread with real dairy 
butter. Nevertheless, it was a great treat when occa- 
sionally Madame substituted home-made cakes for the 
more simple fare, and it requires no stretch of imagina- 
tion to picture little Master Joseph and his companions 
looking longingly into their satchels for a refreshing 
glimpse of the dainties within, as they plodded along 
the dusty Flanders road. 

At lunchtime, as they sat in a hungry row upon the 
stone bench outside the schoolhouse, a beggar-boy, Sus 
van Beal, attracted by the cakes, drew near with long- 
ing eyes and artful voice. 

" I took a magpie for each of you to your house 
after you had gone to school this morning.* ' 

After such magnanimity as this, it was natural that 
each of the children should give the wistful beggar a 
cake from the cherished store, but Joseph, the youngest 
of the bunch, with his big, generous heart, cried 
eagerly : 

" Let us give them all to him ; the poor boy is 
always in want/* 

Fired by his example, the children poured their 


cakes into the beggar's outstretched hands, and 
hungry, but happy, returned to afternoon school. But, 
alas for their heroic act of supererogation, when, tired, 
breathless, and famished, they burst in upon their 
mother, demanding to see the wonderful birds, they 
were quickly disillusioned. Magpies and 'Master 
Sus van Beal were equally to be numbered among the 

Few boys come through childhood without more or 
less risk to life and limb, and, seeing how appalling 
many of these risks are, it speaks well for the efficiency 
of their guardian angels. 

The elder de Veuster children, when in after years 
their young brother had become a celebrity, loved to 
tell the story of his miraculous escape from death on 
an occasion when a kindly driver, seeing them trudg- 
ing along in the dust, offered them a ride to school. 
Joseph, climbing merrily into the cart, missed his foot- 
ing, and fell sprawling on his face in front of the wheeL 
The horse, startled with the children's screams of 
horror, plunged forward, so that the wheel passed 
over the boy's head and body. 

His terrified companions, seeing him lie partly 
stunned, with his little face hidden in the white road, 
believed him to be dead, and ran hurriedly back to the 
farmhouse, telling his mother he had been run over. 
Madame de Veuster, overcome with grief, rushed to 
the scene in a terrible state, only to find her beloved 
child little the worse except for a bump on his head and 
a dark bruise on his back. Joseph de Veuster was not 
so soon to yield up his precious life. 


As he grew older, and infancy gave place to early 
boyhood, he began to fear that the pleasures and ex- 
citements of life might prove too much for him. In 
these days, when often children are satiated with 
amusements before they have left school and it is 
hard to find a gift or a distraction which will rouse 
them from boredom, it is difficult to realise what 
Joseph could have feared in the way of worldly tempta- 
tions in that simple home and quiet village nearly one 
hundred years ago. It is true that comforts and plain, 
nourishing food existed in plenty in the little farm- 
house, but there was no money for luxuries or festivi- 
ties in a household where Joseph was the seventh 
child, with another even younger than himself. Yet 
the mother's stories of saints and martyrs still influ- 
enced his consciousness, so that he tried various secret 
means of mortification. Madame Veuster, good, pious 
soul, had very strong notions of bringing up her family 
in full health, both physical and mental, so that 
Joseph was never allowed to carry out these methods 
of discipline in her presence by going without the 
amount of food she thought proper and necessary. 
Being of an extremely obedient disposition, though 
already showing signs of strength of character, Joseph 
looked round for some other means of keeping his 
vigorous little body in subjection. 

One happy day he managed to secrete a plank be- 
neath his bed in the room which he shared with his 
dearly-loved brother, Augustus, another devout young 
soul, two years older than himself. It is a well-known 
fact, proved to many a harassed English hostess in the 
days of refugees in the Great War, that no Belgian, 
however young, will share his bed with another. It 


simply is not done. So that evening the two brothers 
each got into his bed in the usual way, but later, 
Augustus, waking in the moonlight, rubbed his sleepy 
eyes, trying to understand whatever had happened to 
Joseph. His curiosity indeed was so great that, jump- 
ing up, he pattered across the floor in his bare feet, to 
discover that the youthful ascetic had quietly dragged 
out the plank from under his bed, laid it on the top, 
and wrapping himself in his coverlets, was slumbering 

Augustus, somewhat alarmed, awoke him and asked 
for an explanation. Joseph in giving it begged that 
Madame Veuster should not be told, and for a time 
he regularly slept upon his self-inflicted cross. One 
inauspicious morning he forgot to remove it, and great 
was the good mother's horror on its discovery, so that 
she quickly decreed the offending plank must be re- 
moved and her small boy sleep in the comfortable bed 
she had provided. Joseph, as usual obedient to the 
* powers that be,' discarded his board and found other 
means of following the examples of the saints. Well 
was it for his devoted mother she little guessed that in 
the future the earth itself would often form her darling's 
bed ! 

Even these very early years show that Joseph was 
possessed in full measure of the troublesome gift of 
an extremely active conscience, a spiritual prize 
which makes a beautiful frame to the picture of a 
favourite saint, but which is not always acceptable to 
oneself. In the young de Veuster's case it produced 
extreme sensitiveness, so that, as has been s6en, he was 
even reduced to tears when reproved for any childish 
act of negligence or carelessness. He must not for 


this reason be condemned of the detestable trait of 
priggishness, nor for the unpleasing characteristic of 
effeminacy - later events free him from any suspicion 
of the latter ; he had merely inherited that attribute 
of many a holy soul - a super-sensitive consciousness, 
"Through what anguish of repentance, what dark 
'valleys of tears, what splendours of vision, this pos- 
session led him, none but those likewise endowed can 
.ever realise ! 

It was soon evident that work on the farm was un- 
suitable for his career. That he was fully acquainted 
with manual labour is abundantly proved by the 
practical manner in which with his own hands he acted 
. as builder, sanitary engineer, carpenter, gardener, and 
even grave-digger, in his far-off South Sea Island 
parish. He had found the secret of success taught by 
the wise old 'sage so many centuries before his own, 
, ' Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy 
might.' His active mind very quickly absorbed all the 
instruction available in the village school, and for some 
years little scope was found for his great love of study. 
But during this period he was far from idle, and, 
working ceaselessly on his father's farm, he learnt the 
many practical lessons which were to prove so valuable 
an asset in his life-work. 

Although always merry and bright, everyone's 
friend, and beloved by all with whom he came in 
contact, young Joseph does not appear to have spent 
much time in games with the lads of the village. His 
favourite pastime seems to have been skating, at which 
he was an expert. The canals and rivers round his 


home, frozen over for months together, gave many 
opportunities for indulging in this sport, and he often 
carried out many errands for his neighbours in this 
manner. It is easy to picture the sturdy Belgian boy, 
his rounded cheeks rosy with the bitter wind, gliding 
mile after mile along the frozen waterways, the tall, 
snow-covered elms beside him, silhouetted like fairy 
trees against the pale blue of the wintry sky. How 
often in after years, beneath the burning sun, limp and 
exhausted with tropical heat, he must have thought of 
those care-free hours, as like a bird he skimmed lightly 
over the glittering ice ! 

On one occasion, pressed for time, moving swiftly 
along the frozen Dyle, he came suddenly to the 
junction of the Laak, where, with a lightning stab of 
horror, he perceived an abyss opening (directly beneath 
his feet. With a supreme effort he managed a sharp 
turn to avoid the awful danger, then, stopping cauti- 
ously, returned to examine the horror he had escaped, 
His skate had skirted the extreme edge of the chasm. 
For a moment he gazed at the dark waters of the whirl- 
pool, then, falling on his knees, thanked God and his 
guardian angel who had preserved him from such 
deadly peril. For long after, even his courageous soul 
could not call to mind that moment without an inward 



A he grew older, Joseph de Veuster's exceptional 
gifts for learning seeming to indicate a com- 
mercial career, his parents with some sacrifice 
raised sufficient money to send him to college at 
Braine-le-Comte, in the Province of Hainault, more 
particularly for the study of French, his mother-tongue 
being Flemish. 

Belgium, composed of two distinct nationalities, 
speaks two languages. Roughly divided, her northern 
inhabitants are akin to their Dutch neighbours, whose 
ancestry they share. They are a slow-moving race, 
chiefly agriculturists, their language being Flemish. 
Their countrymen of the south are Walloons, speaking 
French, and closely allied in racial characteristics to 
their kinsmen of France. In the main they are manu- 
facturers, in temperament more vivid and passionate 
than their northern brothers. The two have little in 
common beyond the tie of patriotism, and many 
problems have arisen on the question of language, 
owing'not only to the difficulties of the Flemish tongue, 
but also on account of its varied dialects, which make 
it quite possible even in the capital city of Brussels to 
find a visitor from the northern provinces who cannot 
make himself understood. That Joseph de Veuster 
met with this racial antipathy is proved by a letter 
home mentioning that * any Walloon who laughs at 


me, I hit with a ruler.' The embryo saint was not yet 
entirely regenerate ! 

The young man's keen intellect and retentive 
memory stood him in good stead in his studies, to 
which he addressed himself with remarkable vigour. 
Although possessed of an exceptionally good con- 
stitution, he almost overtaxed his strength by the 
ardour with which he pursued the path of learning, 
using even his walks and recreation for the purpose of 
acquiring knowledge. Those familiar with Hobbema's 
picture of the * Avenue at Middelharnis,' hanging in 
the National Gallery, London, can well picture the 
scenery he encountered on those solitary walks - the 
long white road bordered by the tremulous, delicate 
poplars, the little fairy village at the end of the vista 
with its red roofs and tall church spire, on either hand 
the countryside, with carefully tended fields, green 
meadows, and tiny copse. In after years the calm 
orderliness of it all must often have returned to his 
mind as, c crowned with glories and horrors, he toiled 
and rotted in that pigsty of his under the cliffs of 

The college evidently seemed at first a very lonely 
place to the home-loving boy, separated also from his 
beloved Augustus, who by this time had entered the 
convent 1 of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary at 
Louvain, to train for the Holy Office of Priesthood. 
Many affectionate letters passed between the brothers 
at this period, showing that Joseph at an age when so 
many lads pass through a stage of distaste, even almost 
contempt, for the old life, bore an ever deepening 

* Throughout the following pages the word ' convent Ms used as meaning a mon- 
astic establishment, not in its modern designation as referring to a nunnery* 


affection for his parents and a real sense of gratitude 
for the love and care they had so generously lavished 
upon him. 

A letter written to his father and mother while in 
the college at Braine-le-Comte is typical of these 
marked traits in his character : 

* I am veiry glad to get a little free time, as it gives me 
this opportunity of conversing with you for a few 
moments. It is to you, my dear parents, that I owe, not 
only my present happiness, but also the education 
which I am now receiving and which will be of profit 
to me all my life. I do not know how I can prove, 
as I ought, my gratitude to you for all the benefits 
you have conferred upon me, from my earliest 

It has been seen that Joseph had very early shown a 
strong love for the things of the spirit, combined with 
a deep interest in the services and ceremonial of the 
Church, and it was at the impressionable age of eight- 
een that he took part in his first Mission, conducted 
by the Redemptorist Fathers in 1858. The beautiful 
church of Braine-le-Comte, crowded with great con- 
gregations full of ardour and devotion, the impassioned 
singing and inspired sermons, the whole atmosphere 
electric with faith and emotion, acted upon the sensitive 
soul- of the young student with an irresistible force. 
The first night he did not go to bed at all, but spent the 
time on his knees in silent prayer and meditation. And 
through those long hours of darkness it is possible the 
world lost a great captain of industry, but the modern 
Church found one of its greatest saints. Joseph de 
Veuster had found his vocation - that greatest vocation 
of all, known only to the favoured few, who, leaving all 


that life holds dear, walk with bare and bleeding feet 
on the sacred Way of the Cross. 

The first problem the young aspirant for the cloister 
had to face was the difficulty of breaking the news to his 
parents, who, having sacrificed so much for his educa- 
tion, were obviously looking forward to his career as 
a successful business man. An opportunity seemed 
to present itself when news came from home saying 
that one of his sisters had made her Profession as a 
nun, so that Joseph, in reply, asked whether it would 
be possible for him to follow his brother Augustus, now 
known as Father Pamphile, into the Congregation of 
the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary at Louvain, often 
called the Picpus Fathers, from the name of their 
House in the Faubourg St. Antoine in Paris, This house 
in the French capital was the place in which the Com- 
munity had first been established, and it still remained 
the residence of the Superior-General of the Order. 

Monsieur and Madame de Veuster at first withheld 
their consent to their son's petition, either with a view 
to testing his vocation, seeing his extreme youth, or 
possibly from some other equally good reason. The 
parents' consent being so important a factor in any 
crisis in the life of a Belgian boy, and particularly in 
the case of this special boy, whose devotion and obedi- 
ence to his father and mother were so highly developed, 
Joseph was obliged to possess his soul in patience. 
But the Divine Call, once heard, can never be silenced ; 
sleeping or waking, it urges the soul with an insistence 
which cannot be ignored, even to the extent of crying 
aloud : 

* He that loveth father or mother more than Me is 
not worthy of Me/ 


This waiting time must have been hard for the 
young man's ardent soul, yet it was necessary, for it 
taught him life's stern lesson of patience, together with 
the driving-force which lies in continual prayer. It 
was after a particularly fervent Communion on the 
Christmas Day of 1858 that he wrote again to his 
parents, and this time the simple earnestness of the 
appeal was so unmistakably genuine that their oppo- 
sition was withdrawn. Indeed, to pious souls such as 
Francois and Catherine de Veuster, this letter must 
have given great spiritual joy, revealing as it did the 
depth and sincerity of their son's character. 

1 This great Feast has brought me the certainty that 
God has called me to quit the world and embrace the 
religious state, therefore, my dear parents, I ask again 
for your consent, for without it I cannot venture to 
enter on this career. God's commandment to obey 
our parents does not apply only to childhood.' 

Joseph's first thoughts had been to ally himself to 
the Trappists, that stern, amazing Brotherhood whose 
vow embraces perpetual silence (except for devotion 
and salutation), severe abstinence, eleven hours spent 
daily in prayer, and much hard manual labour, but 
maturer consideration and the advice of Augustus 
decided him to join his brother at the convent of the 
Picpus Fathers in Louvain. 

The University of * Louvain, the former capital of 
the Province of Brabant, has a long history as one of 
the most celebrated seats of learning, having been 
founded towards the dose of the seventh century. Its 
glorious library was completely destroyed during the 
Great War, when many unique volumes and manu- 
scripts were irrevocably lost. The University has 


held faculties of law, medicine, arts, and theology, but 
the last-named has always been the most representa- 
tive of Louvain. A Seminaire G&i&ale was estab- 
lished in the city in 1876 for the education of youths 
intended for the Priesthood. 

On Joseph's nineteenth birthday, January 3rd, 
1859, Monsieur de Veuster, having business in 
Louvain, took the boy to interview the Father Superior 
at the Picpus Convent, arranging to call for him later. 
But Joseph had a different design simmering in his 
active brain that the slower moving mind of his father 
never suspected, this being nothing less than remain- 
ing henceforth in the convent, and no sooner was the 
worthy farmer's back turned away than Joseph be- 
sought his brother, Father Pamphile, to obtain leave 
from the Superior to allow him to stay under his roof. 

The Superior, with rare insight, recognising the 
boy's vocation shining in his earnest eyes, gave per- 
mission for him to remain, and great was Monsieur 
de Veuster's surprise when he called for him later in 
the day. Joseph met him with humble apologies, beg- 
ging that he might be excused from returning home, 
skilfully insisting that in this way his mother would be 
spared the long-drawn anguish of a more formal part- 
ing. His father, whose behaviour throughout seems 
to have shown utmost submission to what he must 
have regarded as the Divine ordering of events, went 
quietly away, and, amid the brass and copper pots and 
pans of the humble Flemish kitchen, informed his 
wife that her son had bade farewell to his home for 

The decision of the Father Superior quickly proved 
to be justified, and some time later he remarked : 


* From the first moment Damien lived in the 
Community as if he had spent several years in it. 
To witness his very deportment, the great joy which, 
tempered with calmness and serenity, pictured the 
happiness and peace of his soul, was to call to 
mind the words of St. Aloysius uttered on entering 
the cell of his novitiate, " I find my repose in this 
house ; here will I live, because it is the house of 
my choice.*' ' 

Before finally entering the convent of the Picpus 
Fathers, Joseph returned home for a month. The last 
evening in the old farmhouse kitchen was spent in 
quiet conversation with his father and mother about 
the future, and the happy prospect of meeting in 
another world where partings would be unknown. As 
he left next morning with his parents' blessing resting 
upon him, the village turned out to wish him God- 
speed, waving friendly, loving hands from their cot- 
tage doors as he passed along, sorrowing that they 
would rarely see his bright, joyous face, his tender 
smile, again, 

It is well, in this age when parents so often think 
that the making of money is the one criterion, the only 
ideal for which their children should work, to remem- 
ber the quiet self-sacrifice of those two hard-working 
Flemish peasants, Fran?ois and Catherine de Veuster. 
Two of their daughters had left them and become 
nuns ; one son, Pamphile, was already a monk ; and 
now Joseph, the apple of their eye, was to follow the 
same sacred calling. Four children given to God, and 
given with that complete surrender which only the 
convent walls can demand ! A magnificent example to 


this and every generation ! It may be that, when the 
great bede-roll of the saints is called, such humble, 
pious souls as these may rank among the aristocracy 
of heaven. 

Even now that his feet were firmly set within the 
convent walls Joseph met another great difficulty, for 
the Father Superior found that the boy's commercial 
education was not sufficient to admit him as a candi- 
date for the Priesthood, and it was therefore necessary, 
according to the rules of the Congregation of the 
Sacred Hearts, to rank him among the choir or lay 
brothers. This necessitated many laborious and even 
menial duties, but the lad who a short while before 
had been accustomed to work in the fields from dawn 
to dusk made light of such things, and, while his strong 
young arms worked willingly at many uncongenial 
tasks, his mind rested upon the things of the spirit. 
And ever before him, even when it seemed most im- 
possible, there gleamed the great ideal of the Holy 
Priesthood. Nor, in spite of his laborious days, did 
he forget his early endeavours at self-mortification. 

The brothers shared a room in the convent just as 
in their boyhood days in the red-roofed farmhouse at 
Tremeloo, and Pamphile, waking one night in the 
same way as long ago, saw a strange, uncanny parcel, 
with curious bumps and curves, lying beside the 
younger boy's bed, which, on closer inspection, proved 
to be the lad himself wrapped in his blanket, fast 
asleep on the bare boards. Pamphile, knowing that 
the Father Superior had forbidden this practice, wak- 
ened his brother, and within a short time had the 


satisfaction of seeing the ever-obedient Joseph safely 
tucked up in bed. 

But the spirit of self-mortification was so strong, so 
deeply engrained into his soul, that he soon found 
other means of enforcing it. Throughout his life he 
was always extremely severe on himself, though at the 
same time his beautiful humility of character caused 
him to endeavour by innocent artifice to conceal his 
doings from those around him. In the convent it was 
remarked that if for some slight reason anything were 
missing from the refectory, he endeavoured to arrange 
that it should be he who should suffer the little 
privation, insisting on giving the meat to a hungry 
comrade, while he himself dined gaily on soup and 

A religious life, such as that followed by the Picpus 
Fathers, based on the vow of poverty, of necessity en- 
tailed many hardships, but Joseph, far from complain- 
ing, underwent them all diligently and cheerfully, often 
adding long night watches to those already enjoined, 
spending hours on his knees in prayer. Much has 
been written in praise of the bodies of the saints, grown 
thin and ascetic with fasting, their eyes burning with 
inward vision, their faces worn with watching and 
devotion. But nothing has been said about their 
humble knees, grown hard and calloused with many 
prayers. It is left for the stones in many an old mon- 
astery and ancient church, grown hollow where they 
have knelt, to tell the story of these. 

This same love of penance is shown in the alacrity 
with which Joseph undertook any form of manual 
labour, however hard or dangerous. A delightful in- 
cident is recorded of an occasion when the Picpus 


Fathers were building the chapel of their Louvain 
house, and the younger members of the Community 
were assisting the workmen. In preparing the site it 
was necessary to pull down a chimney so tall and rickety 
that all the workmen refused the dangerous task. But 
young de Veuster, quietly asking for a ladder and get- 
ting someone to steady it, took down the chimney 
brick by brick. The workmen, staring in astonish- 
ment, cried aloud : " Mon Dieu ! Quel homme ! " 

It is certain that a character such as his, aflame with 
zeal and devotion, might easily have gone to extremes 
if it had not been for his gift of docility, by which the 
watchful guidance of the Father Superior was always 
diligently obeyed. 

One never-to-be-forgotten day Father Pamphile, 
by way of pastime, proposed to teach him a few Latin 
sentences. Joseph's retentive memory easily grasped 
them, and in a few days the pastime had grown into a 
serious study, so much so that in an incredibly short 
time he had become equal to his master. The Superior, 
on hearing of his surprising' progress, and having no 
doubt a warm corner in his heart for the bright young 
lad, allowed him to put off his entrance into the novi- 
tiate in order that he might have the opportunity to 
prepare for a Latin examination. This proved so suc- 
cessful that it decided in favour of admitting him to 
the habit. 

It is the custom when postulants enter upon their 
novitiate that they should take another name by which 
henceforth they shall be known in religion, and to 
Joseph de Veuster was given the name of DAMIEN, 
that name which after his death was to flame across 
the world in letters of gold. The choice was taken 


from the heroic doctor of Cilicia who, after a 
life of self-sacrifice spent in ministering to the souls 
and bodies of suffering humanity, was with his brother 
Cosmas unspeakably tortured and eventually beheaded 
on September 27th, A.D. 303. Scenes from their 
lives are found in the convent of San Marco in Flor- 
ence, portrayed by the idealistic brush of Fra Angelico. 
They are also known by reason of being the patrons 
of the Medici family in Florence in the fifteenth cen- 

This choice of the name of Damien for the young 
novice of Louvain was prophetic for one who in after 
years was to be both Priest and doctor to those whom 
the world had cast off and forsaken. As he himself 
said, ' It is more or less repulsive to nature always to 
be surrounded by these unfortunate children, but I 
find consolation in it ; for being now a bit of a doctor, 
like my patron St. Damien, I try, with the help of God, 
to alleviate their bodily pains and so bring them on in 
the way of salvation/ 

Each day in after years as the young Priest at his 
Altar offered the Eternal Sacrifice it must have been 
an inspiration to repeat the name of his patron in that 
great roll of honour in the Canon of the Roman Liturgy 
beginning with * the glorious and ever-Virgin Mary/ 
and continuing with the * blessed Apostles Peter and 
Paul ' down to * Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, 
Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John 
and Paul, Cosmas and Damian.' 1 

In the form in use in Belgium the saint's name is 

1 Not to be confused with St. Peter Damian, or of Damian, Cardinal Bishop of 
Ostia, died February 23rd, 1072, and who cherished in his disciples the spirit 
of solitude, charity, and humility, combined with great mortification. 


written Damien, but in English it is spelt Damian, a 
nearer reproduction of the original Latin, Damianus, 
and the modern Italian, Damiano. 

* Like my patron, St. Damien, I try, with the help 
of God, to alleviate their bodily pains and so bring 
them on in the way of salvation/ These words give 
the key to Damien's handling of the flock committed 
to him, the insight into the immortal soul within the 
suffering body, for, although it was to the bodies he so 
often ministered, yet it was for the souls of his people 
that he made the supreme sacrifice, renouncing every- 
thing that life holds dear. How often it has been 
written across the history of Missions that by ministry 
to the poor, weary body a door is opened to the secret 
recesses of the soul. 

But this is anticipatory. It is necessary to return to 
the young brother in the Louvain convent. It is 
typical of those early days that, on one occasion after 
an earnest exhortation to the novices by the Father 
Superior on the duties of * Silence, Recollection, and 
Prayer/ Damien was found to have cut the words on 
his desk to have them ever before his eyes - an interes- 
ting instance of attention to the preacher which it is to 
be hoped will not be followed too assiduously by 
enthusiastic choirboys. 

Above all the characteristics of his novitiate is shown 
his wonderful capacity for prayer ; a gift which he 
cultivated by every means in his power, not only by 
the use of the Daily Offices, including the Night Hours 
so strenuous to a novice, but by private prayer, the 
outpouring of his soul, the inner mystic life of the 
spirit in which God is not only the great Reality, but 
the Friend, the Guide, and the Teacher. This intense 


realisation of the companionship of his Lord, fostered 
during those hours in the quiet convent, kneeling 
before the Presence, were to prove of untold blessing 
in the years to come, when in that lonely Isle of the 
Pacific his sole companions would be his leper parish- 
ioners, diseased both in body and soul. Youth, as it is 
trained in devotion, the art of contemplation, the 
memorising of Sacred Writ, little realises how these 
things will be prized when sickness, distance, or 
difficult occupations may cut the soul off from corporate 

The superb constitution which Damien inherited 
from his ancestors, sturdy sons of the soil, allowed him 
to go into the chapel for Adoration so early as three in 
the morning, continuing till the Brethren met for 
Mattins and meditation at 4.30 a.m. If any could 
have known what passed within his soul during those 
silent hours of the night, his ministry at Molokai 
might not have seemed so surprising, and much would 
be learnt of the work of prayer. Did he kneel like the 
young candidate for knighthood in John Pettie's 
picture of * The Vigil,' his eyes full of steadfast faith 
and devotion ; did he prostrate himself with an 
adoration akin to the mysticism of the East ; or did he 
just rest, hidden in the peace of the Sacred Heart, lost 
in that highest communion of all ? God alone knows ! 
But this is certain, that in those hours when through 
the dark shadows the light glowed above the Altar 
where the Blessed Presence rested, the foundations on 
which Damien's life-work was built were laid. 

One striking characteristic of this young man's 
character was the remarkable ease with which he 
could pass in a moment from deep devotion to study 


or recreation ; from gay conversation to complete ab- 
sorption in prayer - a most enviable trait to those who 
find concentration in worship one of the most difficult 
achievements of daily life, only attainable by a soul 
which lives very near to God. 

His healthy body and love of prayer both stood him 
in good stead on the occasions when the Brotherhood 
made a pilgrimage to Montaigu, a celebrated shrine of 
Our Lady, nine miles from Louvain, Young Damien 
always made the journey both ways on foot as light- 
heartedly as one of St. Francis's troubadour friars, 
reciting the Rosary time and again. As it was the 
custom to communicate at the 6 a.m. Mass at the 
shrine, it was necessary to start from Louvain quite 
by midnight, and the other pilgrims retired to bed 
earlier than usual in preparation. It is always a melan- 
choly procedure to start a journey at that dark, mys- 
terious time when the day gives place to the first hour 
of a new morning, with all its unknown perils and 
possibilities. Damien., seemingly tireless, always 
cheerful, rarely sought his bed on these occasions, but 
spent the waiting time on his knees, where he was 
found at the time of departure, quite as bright and 
active as the sleepy-eyed Brothers who sought him. 
Truly a man of superhuman strength ! 

It was during the first months he spent with the 
Community in Louvain that a striking glimpse into 
his humility of soul is given. Speaking to his brother, 
Father Pamphile, he observed : 

" When I -assist at the lectures of the University 
the sight of so many clever students humbles me 
exceedingly and covers me with shame." 

Noble, humble Damien ! The names of those his 


Little Portion, the Portuincula, which his own hands 
had erected, Damien with the utmost difficulty being 
persuaded to rest upon a miserable apology for a bed 
flat upon the ground, in his own little house by the 
church he loved so dearly. 

Lovely and pleasant in their lives, surely in death 
these two are not far divided. Perhaps in the heavenly 
mansions they walk even now as friends 1 

For twenty-one days Damien lay in agony, while 
gradually the familiar roar of the sea, the voices of the 
children, the cry of the seabirds, grew faint to his 
dying ears, in the same way as the dear, familiar faces 
grew dim to his fading eyes. Constantly united to 
his Lord by prayer and suffering, his sublime patience 
and still cheery smile were a wonder to all. 

Father Wendolin asked that, like Elijah, he would 
leave him his mantle, that he might inherit his great 

" What would you do with it ? " was the sick man's 
reply. " It is full of leprosy/' 

Towards the end he was continually aware of the 
presence of two persons in the room, unseen to those 
around him, one at the foot of his bed and one at the 
head, but he never mentioned who they were. 

The second Sunday after Easter was his last earthly 
Sabbath, when in the Roman and Anglican Liturgies 
the Gospel for the Day speaks of the Good Shepherd 
who lays down His life for the sheep. In common with 
Catholic Christendom, this Gospel was read in the two 
churches of Molokai to the accompaniment of tears 
and sobbing from the grief-stricken people. 


kneeling before the stained glass window of Xavier 
in the chapel, asking that the saint might intercede for 
him that he too might be given the great privilege of 
saving souls in heathen lands. 

For many years he and his brother Pamphile had 
loved to talk and think, and, when separated, to write 
to each other about the glamour of the South Sea 
Islands, with their sapphire seas thundering against the 
reefs of coral, the lovely shores like one vast bouquet 
of flowers, scented and glowing, the natives with their 
laughing faces wreathed in blossoms, requiring but the 
knowledge gained from Calvary to turn them into 
veritable sons and daughters of the Living God. Nor 
were the two young monks blind to the evil in those 
sun-swept lands the innocent friendliness of the 
natives to the white whalers and merchants repaid 
by unspeakable cruelty and injustice, the barbarous 
customs that lay behind the picturesque beauty of those 
smiling lands, the foul diseases, the immorality, and 
the idleness. But to an eager youth on the threshold 
of life these things give but an added zest as he views 
the work set before him, the trampling down of these 
deeds of the Devil in the name of his Lord. And 
again and again the younger lad saw his brother's eyes 
sparkle as he looked forward to the time when he 
himself would be a shepherd of these most attractive 

Damien, separated in Paris from the embryo mis- 
sionary's influence, lost none of his own enthusiasm, 
but spoke and thought much of those lovely and 
alluring lands. The Father Superior, with Divine 
intuition, recognised the dawning call in the young 
novice's soul, and with earnest intentness several times 


drew his attention to St. Paul's state of mind at Athens. 
The visits of a missionary Bishop from the South Seas 
to the House of the Picpus Fathers set the final seal 
on all these budding aspirations, so that he wrote to 
his parents full of enthusiasm, * I believe this zealous 
missionary will shortly return to his Mission in 
Oceania, and may possibly take some of us with 
him. Would you not be happy if I were to be 
one ? ' 

Shortly afterwards, on returning to Louvain, he 
found his brother's ardour for the work awaiting him 
increased a thousandfold. But God does not always 
call his servants to work for him in the way they choose, 
and it was the Divine Purpose that Father Pamphile's 
eyes should never rest on the enchanted islands of his 
dreams. A few weeks before the date on which he 
was to sail, typhus broke out in Louvain and the 
young Priest obtained permission to go into the fever- 
stricken homes of the city, taking the Last Sacraments 
to those so suddenly called to pass through the gate 
of death, as well as comforting the mourners and 
burying the dead. It was a wonderfully heroic work, 
.and it can well be imagined that Damien's eager soul 
found much regret in the fact that, being as yet only 
in Minor Orders, it was impossible for him to admin- 
ister the Sacraments in like manner, but there is no 
doubt his prayer-loving spirit poured out the riches of 
its nature in continual intercession for the suffering 

It was but a short while before the date fixed for his 
departure to Honolulu that the blow fell which was 
to alter Father Pamphile's life-work. He who for 
weeks had moved amidst the most virulent infection, 


heard Confessions from the lips of the dying, admin- 
istered the Blessed Eucharist and Holy Unction to 
those in extremis, and all without any hurt, now fell 
suddenly ill with the dread disease, and lay tossing 
upon his bed, wasted with fever. Added to his physi- 
cal sufferings, a cloud of deep depression settled down 
upon his ardent soul as he realised it would be impos- 
sible for him to start on his journey. Nor did it help 
matters when he remembered that the Picpus Fathers 
had already paid his passage. It was at this stage, when 
the young Priest was fast losing his hold on life, that 
his brother Damien, with that simple directness so 
characteristic of his personality, went into his room 
and, taking the poor, thin hand into his own, said 
quietly : " Would it help you if I went in your place ? " 

The sick man's eyes lit up with an eager light as, 
pressing his brother's hand in return, he smiled joy- 
fully, and from that very hour took on a new lease of 

All letters written by the Brotherhood were sup- 
posed to be read before leaving the house, but Damien, 
acting for once in direct disobedience to authority, 
wrote to the Superior-General in Paris explaining the 
situation and begging that he might take his brother's 
place. A few days later, as the young students were 
seated in their classroom, the Father Superior entered, 
an open letter in his hand. 

" Oh, you impatient boy 1 You have written this 
letter and you are to go." 

Damien the impulsive leapt from his seat and, run- 
ning out of the room, leapt and danced like a young 
colt. One is still very much the boy, even at the 
mature age of twenty- three ! His fellow-students asked 


each other if he were crazy, but it was a Divine mad- 

The letter had ordered him to bid farewell to his 
parents and friends and come to Paris immediately to 
join in the Retreat which his fellow-missionaries, com- 
panions on the journey, were making before their 
departure. Damien's first thought before going home 
to Tremeloo was to run joyfully to his brother's bed- 
side with the letter. 

The suddenness of his departure, together with the 
attendant excitement, must have done much to soften 
the anguish of farewell. It is those who see the 
loved one depart and themselves remain behind amid 
the old familiar scenes, the daily tasks, where each 
inanimate object brings back memories of the absent, 
who suffer the most on these occasions. There are 
many of this generation mothers, wives, sisters, 
lovers who during the Great War bade farewell to 
their menfolk fearing they might never meet again, 
who can realise that it was Madame de Veuster who 
suffered the most during those last brief hours, know- 
ing full well, in those days of difficult and expensive 
travel, it was probably the last time she would see her 
boy again on this side of the grave. For him the acute- 
ness of the agony came later, through long years of 
loneliness and homesickness beneath the far-off 
splendour of the southern stars. 

Full of confidence in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the 
Mother of Consolation, Damien asked his own beloved 
mother and a sister-in-law to make a pilgrimage to the 
shrine of Notre-Dame at Montaigu, where he prom- 
ised to see them for the last time the following 


Returning to Louvain, he started for Montaigu at 
midnight with a few companions, as so often had been 
his custom. The scene of his farewell is extremely 
touching. After long and fervent prayer, the rare 
tears of manhood falling fast, he folded his mother in 
a tender embrace, then with a simple gesture pointed 
to the statue of Our Lady, and with a heart overflowing 
with grief, yet strong with hope, went forth to his life- 
work and the ultimate martyr's crown, leaving his 
beloved parent in the care of Him who had seen a 
sword pierce through His own Mother's soul also. 

Damien had prayed the Blessed Virgin to ask Our 
Lord that he might have the space of twelve years to 
work in His harvest. He was granted twenty-five. 

On arrival in Paris, he had his photograph taken, 
a quaint old-fashioned portrait staring straight out 
from the picture, clasping a Crucifix, the symbol of 
sacrifice, in much the same manner as his favourite 
Saint, Francis Xavier. Yet the crude portraiture is 
infinitely precious, for it clearly shows the open fore- 
head and steadfast eyes, determined yet deeply affec- 
tionate, the> essentially priestly face, so quickly trans- 
formed into a smile of rare charm. It is a manly 
countenance, typically Flemish, speaking of solid 
worth, strong and brave - not handsome, as the world 
reckons beauty, but a face commanding both love and 
reverence, A slight myopia necessitated the wearing 
of glasses, also causing a trifling disfigurement ; the 
plain cassock and girdle accentuate the sacredness of 
his calling. This portrait must have been a priceless 
possession to the loved ones left behind, and not less 


so to those who in later years have been privileged to 
see the exact likeness of a Saint of their own times. 

Some words written on the eve of sailing are typical 
of his character : 

* Farewell, dear parents, farewell. Be careful al- 
ways to lead a good Christian life, and never let the 
slightest wilful sin stain your soul. Walk in the right 
way. This is the last thing I ask of you ; promise it 
me and I shall be without fear on your behalf ; I 
shall look forward with confidence to seeing you again 
in the heavenly country. Again, farewell ; may 
Heaven bless your declining years - this will be my 
daily prayer. FarewelL , . . 


The Picpus Fathers gave the name of Plre- 
' Father * - to the members of their Order even before 
their Ordination to the Priesthood. It is a delightfully 
human touch, the boyish pride in his vocation, that 
leads him to write * Father Damien * instead of the 
more intimate * Joseph Damien de Veuster * which 
characterises his later correspondence. 

This letter must have brought much comfort to the 
sorrowing parents, and even more so the words spoken 
to Father Pamphile by one who had been with him for 
several days before he sailed : " Your brother is a 
saint, a St. Aloysius ; no one can see him serve Mass 
without being struck by his deep devotion." 

' A St. Aloysius ! * On entering the Picpus con- 
vent at the time of his novitiate nearly five years before, 
his Father Superior, on watching Damien, had been 
reminded of the same saint, and it was a truly 


prophetic instinct which likened him to the young 
monk of three hundred years before, whose short life of 
twenty-three years, noteworthy for its intense devotion, 
was rendered up with such joyful surrender while 
nursing the sick in the epidemic which swept Rome 
in 1591, In the margin of the Baptismal Register 
against his name are inscribed the words : 

* May he be blessed, may he be pleasing to God, 
may he live only for the benefit of mankind ! ' 

Of Joseph Damien de Veuster at his Baptism these 
words might have been as truly written as of his com- 
rade in the Communion of Saints, Aloysius Gonzaga. 

In October 1863, the month dedicated to the 
Guardian Angels, Damien looked his last on Europe, 
leaving behind him the reputation voiced by his 
Father Superior : " His regularity from the beginning 
was such that no eye, however vigilant, could ever 
detect a fault in him/' 



THE voyage to Hawaii was terrible, and it was well 
that Damien suffered little from seasickness, 
that unromantic malady which has made even 
a Bishop remark, on returning on furlough from his 
far-off diocese, that one of the most comforting 
texts in the Scriptures is that which says of St. John's 
vision of the heavenly country that ' there was no 
more sea/ 

That modern floating palace, the liner, was unknown 
in 1863, and Damien's ship was only a sailing-vessel, 
taking five jnonths to journey on its laborious way. A 
terrible storm was encountered off Cape Horn, the 
extreme point of South America, and for several days 
the frail vessel was beaten unmercifully by cruel 
winds and fierce currents, so that it seemed impossible 
she would not founder. Many pieces of wreckage 
floating past on the seething waters gave ominous 
warning of the fate of other ships. 

Damien and his companions, undaunted, began a 
novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary, a nine days' 
devotion for the safety of the ship, ending on the Feast 
of the Purification, February 2nd, 1864, the day on 
which in far-off Europe the snowdrops begin to lift 
their little heads above the frost-bound earth in readi- 
tiess for the Festival of Mother Mary and her forty- 
day-old Son. Hardly was the novena concluded than 



the roaring winds and waters abated, so that they were 
able to pass out of the Straits in safety. A little later 
they encountered another storm of twenty-four hours' 
duration. Damien, with his usual playful humour, 
wrote his brother Pamphile, remarking that the great 
sea they traversed was grossly misnamed, for it was the 
very reverse of * Pacific/ 

The little band of missionaries added much gaiety 
to the ship's company, for they were always merry and 
bright, so that Damien, writing at the beginning of the 
journey, remarked that after being half an hour to- 
gether they were quite tired with laughing and telling 
funny stories* He himself was very popular with the 
sailors, even occasionally lending them a hand in his 
jolly, practical way. He had been appointed Sacristan 
for the voyage, and spent much time each day pre- 
paring the improvised Altar. At one time the supply 
of Altar Breads gave out. Damien had no proper 
implements for their preparation, nothing but the 
necessary flour, yet after several unsuccessful attempts 
he managed to produce them. As a server at Mass his 
modest demeanour and recollected devotion were an 
inspiration to all present. 

A letter which he wrote during the voyage shows 
that for all the deep joy in his vocation and outward 
gaiety his tender heart still returned often in spirit to 
the little white-walled, red-roofed homestead of his 
childhood : 

* Goodbye, dearest parents. Henceforward we shall 
not have the happiness of seeing one another, but we 
shall always be united by that tender love which we 
bear each for the other/ 

On St. Joseph's Day, March I9th, 1864, the feast 


of his patron saint, Damien first beheld the snow- 
capped mountains of the Hawaiian Islands gleaming 
with sun-kissed beauty above the banks of cloud. As 
the ship drew near, a veritable feast of colour unfolded 
like a gorgeous panorama - huge waves, blue and 
glorious, dashing themselves to death on the coral 
reefs in thunderous clouds of spray, hillsides vivid 
with red volcanic ash, green with tropical vegetation, 
threaded with silver waterfalls. Close to the land, 
dusky swimmers floated in the blue lagoon, real water- 
nymphs whose glossy hair spread round them like 
some strange seaweed as they sang their native 
melodies. Gathered on the shore, more smiling 
natives, their dark tresses adorned by many-coloured 
flowers, stood awaiting them with garlands in their 

On landing at Honolulu, strange, romantic name in 
keeping with the exotic loveliness of the scene, the 
missionaries proceeded straight to the Cathedral, 
where they heard the 9 a.m. Mass in thanksgiving for 
a safe voyage. 

The Picpus Fathers regarded the converting of the 
heathen as one of the chief objects of their Order. 
They had been working in Hawaii for thirty-eight 
years, but missionary enterprise had been in pro- 
gress in the island for quite seventy years, striving 
to counteract with its message of love and for- 
giveness the evil influence of white traders and 

The world may scoff at the missionary, criticise his 
methods, tear his reputation into miserable rags, but 
often it has been proved that it is he and his message 
of the Cross that alone have saved the white man, the 


aristocrat of the nations, from perils that in his blind- 
ness he has not even understood. 

From the very first the warm-hearted islanders 
welcomed Christianity into their midst. To them, 
living amidst the splendour and the terror of a tropical 
world, where death strikes swiftly and often unseen 
from beneath his veil of flowers, the message of the 
Resurrection struck home with surpassing power. 

" What ! " cried an old and dusky chieftainess, as 
she first heard the hope of immortality. " What ! 
Can my spirit never die ? Will this poor body live 
again ? " 

It was the same rapture of the early Christians in 
Rome, who, amid all its pagan loveliness, wrote upon 
their tombs, * Vale> atque vale ' ; but, having heard the 
message of life everlasting, cheerfully faced the lion, 
the sword, and the stake, enduring all for the hope 
that was set before them. There would be little 
questioning of the decay of religion in England if she 
had but recently known the despairing darkness of the 
heathen world. 

The first American missionaries to arrive in Hawaii 
were welcomed enthusiastically by the king and his 
five wives, straight out of the sea, all six in a state of 
nature. The missionaries hinted delicately that things 
might be more in order if a little drapery were em- 
ployed. The king, a real aristocrat, took the hint 
gracefully, and on the occasion of his next appearance 
arrived wearing a pair of silk stockings and a hat. 
The royal feasts in those days were on a truly grand 
scale, though perhaps not quite up to the style of a 
banquet at the Mansion House. Two hundred dogs 
were sometimes cooked to form one item on the menu, 


but, as the white man seemed rather unappreciative 
of this delicacy, it was a favourite Hawaiian joke to 
put a pig's head on a roasted dog to deceive his 
fastidious palate. Certainly trying for the mission- 
ary, but not so alarming as the experience of his 
brother of those days working in Borneo, who, on 
receiving an invitation to a banquet, might dis- 
cover somebody's head acting as a table-centre for 
the feast. 

By the time that Damien arrived in Hawaii the 
royal court had improved its sense of humour, so that 
it was unlikely he had to endure such rich experiences. 
Before beginning his work as a missionary it was 
necessary that he should be ordained to the Priesthood, 
being as yet in Deacon's Orders. With this end in 
view, he had earnestly pursued his studies during the 
voyage, so that on arrival it was only necessary for 
him to have two months' preparation before the 
Bishop's hands were laid upon him in Honolulu 
Cathedral, admitting him to the sacred Order of 
Priesthood on the joyous Festival of the Holy Spirit - 
Whit-Sunday, 1864. 

The first Mass celebrated by any young Priest after 
his Ordination must always be an occasion of deep awe 
and reverence, but those who were privileged to be 
present when Joseph Damien for the first time per- 
formed that greatest act of Christian worship relate 
that his demeanour touched every heart. He himself 
gives a slight glimpse into the ecstasy, the devotion, 
which pervaded his whole being, saying how greatly 
he was moved in administering that most Blessed 
Sacrament to men and women who perhaps earlier in 
life had knelt in worship before some dumb idol and 


now from his young hands received the veritable Body 
of God, Ever-Living. 

Damien started his life-work with the strong con- 
viction that a missionary should be a saint, a conviction 
which never left him. * Kamiano/ as Kanaka, the 
native language of Hawaii, rendered his name, 
brought many natural gifts to his ministry - a robust 
body and constitution, a commanding presence even 
among that race, some of the finest inhabitants of the 
Pacific, a bright and cheery smile, infinitely attractive 
to the laughter-loving islanders, a tender and sym- 
pathetic soul, completed by a sonorous voice, giving 
a rich harmony to the native language, an important 
asset in a dialect where vowels are all-important and 
two consonants never come together. 

Added to these gifts he brought a tireless activity, so 
that his people likened him to a fire or tempest. So 
infectious was his energy that he even inspired work 
in the Kanakas, those lotus-eating children of the sun. 
In appearance the islanders, with their picturesque 
garlands of flowers and necklaces of coloured seeds, 
were distinguished by dark brown hair, either straight, 
or thick and fuzzy like their well-known grass skirts, 
teeth resembling pearls from their own lagoons, large 
and expressive eyes, with thick lips and somewhat 
flattened noses. The modefn novel, with its comrades 
the cinema and the theatre, would have us believe that 
the young lady of the South Seas is a siren of the highest 
order, possessed with a particular attraction for the 
susceptible white man, a fascination which often has 
its conclusion in heart-breaking tragedy. 


For his own part, Damien found the islanders a 
lovable, attractive race, hospitable, gentle and courte- 
ous, tender-hearted, not given to luxury or anxious to 
amass riches - a fertile soil on which to plant the seed 
of the Gospel, notwithstanding the rocky ground of 
superstition and idolatry, and the cruel thorns of 
intemperance, licentiousness, and disease, the latter too 
often introduced by foreigners. The white man has 
often taken not only the very life-blood from the native 
races, but has even corrupted their child-like souls, 
giving nothing but vices in exchange. It is curious 
that these vices, as well as the white man's ailments, 
when imbibed by the native races prove so virulent 
that a childish illness like measles may decimate a 
whole population. To the credit of the Hawaiian 
islander, he still remains smiling, dignified, friendly, 
and hospitable. 

The islands are volcanic in origin, but the fires have 
died down on all but the principal one, Hawaii itself. 
The awe-inspiring sight of these mountains, with 
their fire and smoke silhouetted against the deep blue 
.of the tropical night or the golden loveliness of morning, 
to which the Picpus Fathers referred as symbolic of 
the undying flames of hell, awoke in Damien's warm 
young heart a totally different conception. To him 
the fiery tongues spoke of Pentecost, and the Blessed 
Spirit of God turning a missionary's soul into a living 
volcano of zeal and devotion. 

4 If only Providence would send us a holy Priest 
like the Curt d'Ars,' he wrote, * these stray sheep would 
soon be gathered in,' and in an outpouring of prayer 
and intercession he asked that he also might be en- 
dowed with the * pure love of God, the ardent zeal for 


the salvation of souls, with which that same saintly 
Cur6, Blessed John Vianney, was inflamed/ 

To the light-hearted Kanaka, the volcanoes are 
objects of peculiar terror, inhabited by supernatural 
beings of unknown horror and ferocity, whose activities 
keep the inner workings going. It is therefore not 
surprising that Damien found devil-worship in full 
swing, accompanied with its usual abuses of witch- 
doctors demanding vast offerings to the spirits, 
particularly in times of eruptions, as well as during the 
sinister rites connected with human sacrifices. These 
sacrifices of living men and women, the occasion of 
many cruel and bloody ceremonies, were of frequent 
occurrence, being judged necessary whenever a new 
temple was dedicated, a chief down on the sick-list, 
or a war to be undertaken. The awful shores of the 
Pacific, with their adamant cliffs of black lava, hide 
many secrets of almost unearthly loveliness combined 
with scenes of wildest terror. 

Damien's parish of Puna was situated in Hawaii 
itself a vast expanse of land with a widely scattered 
flock. His first parish is always dear to a Priest's 
heart. It is the place where he works out the burning 
enthusiasm of his soul, the soil in which the fiery 
instincts of youth are ripened into the maturer fruits 
of experience. Damien was only twenty-four, a mere 
boy to be entrusted with the sole cure of souls, yet it 
is a strange anomaly that the seclusion of the cloister 
often brings a wonderful knowledge of the working of 
human souls, and it is possible that the monk may 
prove as efficient a Father Confessor as the parish 

One important rule to which Damien firmly adhered 


in his ministrations was the practice of refusing to 
admit catechumens to Holy Baptism until they were 
really fit to be entrusted with the responsibilities and 
privileges of the Christian life, for, young as he was, 
he knew full well that among those careless islanders a 
relapsed Christian was as dangerous to the spiritual 
life of the community as a plague-infected patient 
would be disastrous to their physical well-being. No 
entreaties or pleadings would make him relax this rule 
only in the case of a- person grievously sick and 
unlikely to live did he consent to baptise as soon as he 
was asked. 

It was a strange, picturesque life the young Priest 
led as he hacked his way through the tropical forests, 
grim, silent, and terrible, where Nature produces 
herself in titanic growths of huge trees wreathed with 
flowers, with ferns more than twice the height of a 
man, and every yard a tangle of vegetation for his 
tired feet. Often Damien must have felt desperately 
lonely, yet one is never less alone than when alone with 
God, and those hours in the steaming heat, surrounded 
by the overwhelming activities of Nature, taught him 
afresh the lesson of dependence upon his Lord. 

Sometimes his way led over mountains, where the 
waterfalls leapt in a thousand sparkling chains of 
silver amid the vivid green into the lovely sea, where 
in the clear water fishes gay as rainbows, yellow and 
orange, blue and red, darted amid the snow-white 
coral. Close by, the groves of cocoanut and banana 
with broad, fan-like leaves acted as a background for 
the flowering trees, the hibiscus flaming with colour 
all the year round, the gardenias, the myrtles, and the 
mystic passion flowers. After a shower the whole 


island gave up a fragrant incense, intense and lovely, 
filled with the scent of the Japanese lily and the tall 
spikes of the ginger. 

It was a colossal task that Monseigneur Maigret, 
the Bishop of Honolulu, had set his young Priest, and 
his confidence was not abused, for Damien met every 
obstacle, every difficulty, every danger, not only with 
courage, but with actual joy, 

It was not long before he met the Father of the 
adjoining parish of Kohala, a tract of land infinitely 
larger than his own, containing seven scattered 
churches. Damien's sympathetic eyes quickly per- 
ceived the older Priest was fast breaking down under 
the weight of increasing years and labour beneath the 
enervating, tropical sun. With his usual quick 
decision, the young man pressed him to allow him to 
exchange his smaller parish with him, a proposal to 
which the Bishop agreed, but even Damien's abundant 
energy found it difficult to run a parish which, as he 
wrote to Father Pamphile, was * as large as the whole 
diocese of Malines,' and certainly much more difficult 
to manage, so that it was not long before he found it 
necessary to obtain helpers. The richness of his person- 
ality always attracted young men to his side, so that it 
was not long before he was able to find suitable Kanaka 
youths whom he trained as lay preachers ; then, 
having taught them the necessary Epistles and Gospels 
and initiated them into the art of singing hymns, he 
sent them out as his messengers, and very earnest and 
devoted they proved. 

Yet even their zeal did not save him from much 
hardship and heavy toil - endless riding and tramping 
through the thick forests, steaming with heat like some 


gigantic greenhouse, climbing rocky mountain slopes 
beneath the tropical sun, wrestling with superstition, 
idolatry, immorality, drunkenness, and disease, bearing 
all with a cheerful spirit, daily giving thanks for the 
privilege of ministering to the souls of men. Dis- 
appointments, burdens, anxieties, such as few other 
Priests in the island could have borne, were his daily 
portion, yet he continued on his way, joyful and serene, 
full of faith, eager for his Master's service. 

One instance, typical of countless others, is recorded 
of Damien's hearing for the first time of a little Christ- 
ian settlement far away beyond the rocky slopes at the 
foot of which he was riding, where the Priest had 
died and no substitute found. Without a moment's 
hesitation, Damien tethered his horse and began 
steadily to climb the mountain-side, scrambling from 
rock to rock, taking precarious hold of the ferns and 
grass, moving with bated breath above fearful precipices 
and deep chasms till at length he reached the top. 
There, pausing for breath, he looked down into a 
deep valley bounded by a second mountain. Sliding, 
slipping, stumbling, he made his perilous descent, then, 
crossing the valley, began his second wearisome climb. 
At the top his tired, eager eyes beheld nothing but 
another wide-spreading plain and a third imposing 
height. With weary steps, hands and feet cut and 
bleeding, boots worn to fragments, he crossed the 
valley, then, pausing, well-nigh spent, looked up at the 
towering rocks above him. 

With parched lips he prayed for strength to carry 
on, then, glancing down at his wounded hands and 
feet, recalled the sufferings of his Lord on another 


Sorrowful Way, and swiftly the deep spirituality of 
his nature triumphed over the poor, exhausted body, 
as he muttered to himself : 

" Courage, Joseph ! The good God also has shed 
His blood for those poor souls yonder/' 

* Courage, Joseph ! * It is one of the watchwords of 
his career. Small wonder that the Bishop of his 
diocese, a man of few words, had named this new 
recruit * The Intrepid/ 

It is possible even to picture a faint smile upon his 
face as he began that third perilous ascent, planting 
his tortured feet upon the treacherous rock, clinging 
with his bloodstained fingers to the shrubs and ferns. 
Yet even his brave eyes must have feared what they 
might meet as at length he reached the summit. But 
there, at last, his faith and patience were rewarded, 
for unmistakably he could see a native village nestling 
amid the foliage. 

Nor had he long to wait for his reward, that reward 
so dear to the heart of a Priest - the welcoming delight 
of souls long deprived of the Church's ministrations, 
starving in spiritual destitution for need of her Sacra- 
ments. With deep gratitude these lonely Christians 
gave him of their best, and, showing him the pathetic 
grave of their dead Priest, quickly found themselves 
numbered among Damien's parishioners. 

To him this was no outstanding experience, but 
merely one of many, numbered among the countless 
burdens, the bitter disappointments, which every 
missionary Priest knows so well. 

Damien's pastoral visitations did not always entail 
tramping through the primeval forest or scaling preci- 
pices. Sometimes his way lay across the sea, rowed 


in a boat constructed of nothing more elaborate than 
the hollowed-out trunk of a tree, manned by sturdy 
Kanakas, whose brown skins gleamed with the rich 
tints of copper in the vivid sunlight. 

On one such occasion, as the boat sped rapidly 
along, a frightened rower suddenly gave vent to the 
age-long cry of the terrified mariner : " We perish ! " 

In a fraction of time they were all in the water, the 
Kanakas swimming as easily as the gorgeously tinted 
fish moving beneath them, Damien equally securely - 
for he had learnt the art when quite a lad -though 
perhaps not quite so gracefully as his dark-skinned 

The party had no idea how to right the capsized 
boat, but they managed to propel it as they swam, 
and thus came safely to land. The practical side of 
Damien 's nature is characterised by the fact that, 
before trusting himself and his goods to this very 
primitive method of transport, he made suitable 
preparation for any mishaps that might occur to either, 
by making a good act of contrition to safeguard the 
one and by firmly strapping the luggage to the canoe 
to preserve the other. By this means no damage was 
done, except to a little Breviary which Damien much 
valued, whose pages were so saturated with water as 
to be unreadable. 

He had been but a short time in his new parish 
when, with the aid of the Kanakas, he began with his 
own hands to build churches and chapels, and much 
was the amazement of his parishioners to see their 
Padre carrying great planks of wood from the seashore 


right up to the top of the hill, planks so heavy that 
three or four of them could scarcely lift them from the 

One of his professors in the, old days in Louvain 
University had often affectionately called him * Mon 
gros Damien ' - * My big Damien ' ; the name would 
have seemed more appropriate here, when, like St. 
Simon of Cyrene on another hill, he toiled up the 
slopes beneath the burning sun, carrying the wood 
upon his broad, willing shoulders. 

Another story, illustrating his great strength, tells 
that, riding one day near the coast, he saw a small boat 
drifting along the shore without any guide. Hurriedly 
dismounting, he waded into the sea, reached the boat, 
and with his own unaided efforts brought it ashore. 
Eight helpless men four Englishmen, three Ameri- 
cans, and one Dutchman were lying exhausted 
within it, their hands still grasping the oars they were 
too feeble to use. Obliged to quit their burning ship, 
they had drifted, helpless and hopeless, for eight weary 
days. In after years, as Damien's strong young body 
lay sleeping in its leper's grave, it is possible that some 
of these men recognised the name of the young Priest 
who had saved them from a terrible death. 

At first the young missionary included benches in 
his church furniture, but soon found it was a needless 
luxury for a congregation who much preferred to sit 
on mats on the floor. 

His home life in Belgium had shown him that hall- 
mark of respectability, Sunday clothes, but here the 
Sabbath created a more startling difference, for his 
parishioners, who on week-days roamed the country- 
side half-naked, in and out of the sea like so many 


brown fish, appeared in church on the first day of the 
week in garments wonderful and dazzling to behold. 
The Kanaka, in common with all mankind, and even 
some of the more intelligent of the animal kingdom, 
hates being laughed at, and it was more than the young 
Padre's place was worth for his merry eyes to betray 
the inward mirth they found so difficult to conceal. 

St. Paul speaks of the necessity for women to be 
soberly attired, but it is certain that in their wildest 
extremes of fashion the ladies of Corinth were not so 
distracting to the preacher as those beaming Hawaiians, 
clothed in every tint of the rainbow, with probably 
flowers of gorgeous hue in their fuzzy hair and gar- 
landed around their necks. There was certainly no 
lack of the picturesque in Father Damien's first 



Lovely, laughing, flower-strewn Hawaii, two thou- 
sand miles from the nearest mainland ! Some call it 
the Garden of God, and so it is ; yet, like every earthly 
Paradise, the serpent lies hidden beneath its luxuriant 
beauty, and all too soon Damien perceived its evil 

Years before, at Braine-le-Comte, he had heard of 
the dark shadow of leprosy lying over the sunny isles 
of the Pacific, but, just as a catastrophic disaster at the 
other end of the world moves us less than a murder in 
the next street, so the young student had given but 
passing interest to stories of the awful scourge, and it 
was not until he beheld its victims before him that he 
realised its horror. 

In the early stages it is not always easy to single out 
the sufferers from among their healthy brethren, but as 


the disease pursues its course the victims are usually 
only too obvious, with their bloated and glistening 
skin, eyes glazed as though with the approaching film 
of death, limbs decayed and swollen out of shape, 
features scarred so as to be almost unrecognisable. 

Kindly, hospitable Hawaii was a fertile soil in which 
the deadly seed could plant its roots. The friendli- 
ness of the natives both to each other and to strangers 
even went so far as dividing the last crust, sharing the 
sleeping-mat, and handing the pipe from mouth to 
mouth ; while among the women, well-matured gar- 
ments were lent and borrowed with a total disregard 
of every law of hygiene. And not only were these 
things done all day and every day, but no discrim- 
ination was made between the sick and the whole. 
Small wonder that leprosy spread promiscuously, as 
no efforts were made to segregate the victims or give 
any aid whatever to relieve their sufferings. Often 
Damien found them dying by inches amid their rela- 
tives without any medical help whatsoever, apparently 
entirely oblivious to the contagion they were spreading. 
The easy-going Hawaiian has little thought for the 
future, so that the necessity for prevention of the disease 
was never even considered. There is no need to say 
to a Kanaka, " Take no thought for the morrow " ; 
he will be very unlikely to take any even for to-day. 

It was natural that under these conditions the 
population of the islands decreased, and as the lepers 
circulated freely, not only in their own districts, but 
wherever crowds gathered together, they became a 
menace to native and white man alike. 

In 1865, the year after Damien's arrival, the Gov- 
ernment awoke to the danger, and, after discussing the 


matter, passed an Act decreeing banishment to all 
victims of the disease, regardless of sex or rank, of 
race or colour. The words of this decree, terse and 
coldly official as they sound, are numbered among 
some of the most tragic in history. 

' . . , All lepers are required to report themselves 
to the Government Health Office within fourteen days 
from this date for inspection and final banishment to 

The measure, wise though it was, filled the unhappy 
islanders with horror. Like all news, it spread with 
lightning rapidity from shore to shore, and its import 
was not long in being understood. Full well it was 
realised that it meant total separation from loved ones 
at a time when their sufferings called for the need of 
even more than ordinary love and tenderness. To the 
anguish of separation was added the knowledge that 
the Government was not prepared to incur expense, 
not even the provision of dwelling houses, so that 
existence would be maintained in conditions of direst 

No sooner was the decree published than hundreds 
of lepers were seized by the messengers of the Board 
of Health and transported to Molokai, the appointed 
island of exile. Some of the sufferers, realising the 
danger their presence presented to their dear ones, as 
well as to the community at large, gave themselves up 
to the authorities with noble self-sacrifice, others be- 
cause there seemed no hope of concealment, one of the 
victims actually being a cousin of the reigning sover- 
eign. In many cases the poor creatures were hidden 
by their friends among the labyrinthine depths of the 
forests or in caves on the mountain-sides. Some were 


even concealed beneath the sleeping-mats in their 
homes when the Government inspectors were likely to 
arrive. By these means great numbers escaped being 
rounded up at the annual search, and to a certain 
extent the law was evaded until the year 1873, when, 
a new king having come to the throne, another Board 
of Health was appointed and the leper hunt carried 
out more efficiently. 

Damien's tender heart, so sympathetic to all who 
suffered, whether in body or soul, was wrung again and 
again with the constant anguish of seeing the partings 
between the lepers and their relatives, scenes so 
agonised that often the healthy with dreadful entreaties 
begged to be allowed to go into exile with their dear 
ones. The thought of those already suffering the 
horrors of the leper island, doomed in this world 
never again to see the faces of those they loved, 
haunted the young man's mind by day and night. 
And far more than the realisation of their physical 
misery, greater even than their mental suffering, was 
the knowledge of their spiritual destitution, for they 
were utterly alone, without any Priest to administer 
the Sacraments or give any kind of hope or consola- 
tion. Deep down in his heart Damien began to ques- 
tion his own soul : was he called upon to sacrifice 
everything, even ultimately life itself, and offer him- 
self as their spiritual father ; was he worthy to be 
called to what must prove the martyr's crown ; was 
he sufficiently experienced ? 

Besides these questions, there was a great obstacle 
in the way. He was under his Bishop's orders in a 
large district in which few could undertake his duties 
-the arduous care of seven churches and their 


out-lying districts. A loyal son of the Church, a monk 
under strict vows, Damien throughout his life ren- 
dered perfect obedience and loyalty to the Holy See, 
so that at the moment it seemed he could do nothing 
but await the course of events. Knowing the scarcity 
of missionaries, he reassured himself by the thought 
that, if it were God's will he should go, a way would be 
shown. In the meanwhile, he made the matter a 
subject of continual and earnest prayer. 

Although the surroundings of his work in that 
romantic land were so picturesque, the means of trans- 
port so difficult and so dangerous, the daily routine 
was seldom interrupted. He made regular visitations 
of his flock, celebrated Mass, heard Confessions, gave 
instructions to catechumens and young helpers, min- 
istered to thfe sick and dying. Often he must have 
been weary both in body and soul, lonely not only 
with the isolation from men of his own race and 
colour, but lonely with that spiritual loneliness \vhich 
is the lot of many a Priest, who, though the father of 
his people, bearing within his heart their joys and their 
sorrows, their sufferings and their sins, must often 
himself walk his own road apart. His are the words 
of King Henry before the Field of Agincourt : 

Upon the king ! let us our lives, our souls, 
Our debts, our careful wives, 
Our children, and our sins lay on the king ! 
We must bear all ! 

One of Damien's few recreations was the sending 


and receiving of letters from Belgium. Many touch- 
ing stories of his people, mingled with the spiritual 
experiences of a Priest, found their way to Tremeloo 
and Louvain, delighting his parents and friends with 
glimpses of his old merry character, deepened by the 
maturity of his manhood and the urgency of his 

His letters must have brought strange, exotic 
scenes into the old farmhouse and quiet convent pic- 
tures of scenery wild and lovely beneath the tropical 
sun ; of surf-riding on the great Pacific rollers, with 
the sound of music on sea and shore ; of torchlight 
fishing beneath the opal moon ; of bathers gaily 
singing in the starlight. Entrancing scenes, strange 
and bewitching, pictured in those far-off Belgian 
homes 1 

In May 1873, ten years after his arrival in Hawaii, 
there came an unusual break. On the neighbouring 
island of Maui, where flourishing sugar plantations 
had caused a large influx of labourers, a church had 
just been completed, and the Bishop of Honolulu, 
feeling it an important event, had summoned his 
clergy from the various island parishes to be present 
at the Dedication. 

Damien, summoned from Hawaii, travelled in a 
sailing vessel across the channel which divided the 
island from Maui, past the lovely coral reefs and 
emerald green valleys, till, rounding the coast, he 
came to the settlement of Wailuku, where the new 
church had been built. 

Among the clergy present at the Dedication were 
several young missionary Priests newly arrived, in 
whom no doubt Damien was much interested. The 


service over, the Bishop took the opportunity to discuss 
the conditions of the various districts. In the course of 
the Conference the conversation turned to Molokai, the 
leper settlement, by that time known by the ominous 
title of the ' Living Graveyard.' The Bishop shook his 
head with deep regret. The state of things on that island 
of death and corruption was enough to wring the 
heart of any true father-in-God. At very rare intervals 
he had been able to send a Priest there to adminster 
the Sacraments to the dying, but he feared even this 
would not be allowed again, as every year the Govern- 
ment conditions became more stringent. To Joseph 
Damien it was a distinct call, an assured answer to his 
prayers. With his usual simple directness, he spoke 
what was passing in his mind. " Monseigneur ! 
Here are your new missionaries. One of them could 
take my district. If you will be kind enough to allow 
it, I will go to Molokai and labour for the poor lepers, 
whose wretched state of bodily and spiritual misfor- 
tune has often made my heart bleed within me." 

Simple words for the offer of a life's sacrifice, the 
certainty of a martyr's death, and such a death not 
the swift passing in the arena on some Roman holiday, 
but the slow, agonising mortification of the flesh upon 
the living body, perhaps in five years, possibly in only 
two or three 1 And of thos.e present who heard his 
offer all knew and realised with a swift horror what it 

These and many other thoughts must have passed 
through the Bishop's mind as, touched and astonished, 
he looked deep into his young Priest's eyes, finding 
there with unerring intuition that mystic knowledge 
of vocation which sent Francis of Assisi to turn the 


world's values upside down, Joan of Arc to redeem 
her country's honour, Saul of Tarsus to become Paul 
the Apostle. It was the call of God, and the Bishop 
dared not withhold his consent. 

Swift to accept his acquiescence, Damien suggested 
he should start at once for Molokai. Fifty lepers were 
to leave Honolulu that evening ; there was just time 
for him to get back to the harbour. The Bishop, with 
his realisation of the Divine inspiration urging the 
young man onwards, could but agree, and shortly 
afterwards he and Damien had left the Conference 
and were sailing across the blue waters of the Straits, 
reaching Honolulu but half an hour before the steamer 
for Molokai was due to sail. 

Damien, as member of a Religious Order, had few 
earthly possessions, but there was no time to collect 
even these, much less to bid farewell to his beloved 
parish, where in the nine years of his ministry he had 
made many friends. Just before sunset, as the air 
resounded with the pitiful wailings of the lepers and 
their dear ones, the Bishop and Priest took their 
places on the vessel almost unnoticed. 

Leave-takings at Honolulu are always romantic and 
emotional. To-day, as the great ocean liners put out 
to sea, the strange pathos of Hawaiian voices singing 
songs of farewell sounds across the waves, and even 
the most hardened traveller, stajnding on deck wearing 
the garlands of flowers which the islanders have flung 
around his neck, feels tears of unwonted sadness come 
into his eyes. But to Monseigneur Maigret and 
Joseph Damien, as they left Honolulu that night in 


company with that crowd of heart-broken lepers, 
whose misery was not assuaged by the sight of their 
coffins, which a foreseeing Government in those days 
obligingly sent to accompany them, must have felt 
they walked with Dante in some dreadful inferno. 

It was rare indeed that among the victims sent to 
feed Molokai's fierce and hungry jaws there ranked a 
soul so courageous as Mr. Ragsdale, destined ulti- 
mately to become Governor of the grim island and a 
staunch friend of Father Damien. A distinguished 
lawyer, he voluntarily gave himself up to the authori- 
ties on discovering the deadly symptoms of leprosy upon 
his person, and stepped upon the fatal boat amid the 
other dreadful sufferers with a gardenia in his button- 
hole and the jaunty air of a bridegroom going forth to 
meet his bride. The son of an American father and a 
Hawaiian mother, he was a striking example that the 
half-caste can be made in a noble and heroic mould. 
All honour be to him and to his bravery 1 

But among Damien's fellow-passengers there was 
nothing but misery, human anguish in its most pitiable 

The boat carried another suffering cargo, a consign- 
ment of cattle, probably destined for the butcher's 
knife. Their plaintive cries added still more to the 
horrors of the night. 

For a while the mourning souls on the beach watched 
the ship riding through a sunset glory of scarlet and 
gold, then, with the swift overshadowing of the tropical 
darkness, the vessel with its pathetic burden was seen 
no more. 


Joseph Damien was then only thirty-three, the age 


at which his Lord had set His face steadfastly toward 
Jerusalem, prepared for His Cross and the unknown 
agonies of His most amazing Passion. The disciple 
had heard the Divine call and was following humbly 
in the same Way of Sorrows, 



" T T NCLEAN ' Unclean 1 " The cry with its in- 

I I jSnite burden of woe, echoing through the 

^~s centuries, must have sounded in Damien's 

heart with all its horror as his brave young eyes first 

rested upon his new parishioners. 

They were gathered upon the shore to meet the 
ship, those endued with sufficient strength of mind 
and body to get there the most pitiful collection of 
suffering humanity that the eyes of a Priest could gaze 

1 Suffering humanity 1 ' Scarcely human, many of 
them, with their faces so distorted and repulsive with 
the foul disease that they were, as Robert Louis 
Stevenson wrote after his visit to the island years later, 
a * blot upon the landscape, gorgons and chimseras 
, dire - pantomime deformations of our common man- 
hood, such a population as only now and again sur- 
rounds us in the horror of a nightmare/ their limbs so 
rotted and swollen that some crawled on all fours, 
while others moved only on loathsome stumps of what . 
had once been feet and legs. 

But it was not only the sad bodies that filled the 
young Priest's soul with shrinking horror ; it was the 
bestiality, the debauchery, stamped upon the poor, 
disfigured faces, the hopelessness and degradation of 
those who had lost faith both in God and man, Only 



such as he could still bear in mind that they were 
created to be immortal, made to be an image of the 
Divine eternity. 

These poor creatures, whose ever-gr6wing putre- 
faction was an offence to the fresh winds of the Pacific 
as they swept across that desolate isle, still lived, and 
breathed, and remembered. Remembered ! God of 
all mercy and compassion, what added anguish, what 
exquisite torture, must that remembrance have 
brought ! 

Eagerly they pressed forward to see the boat 
their only link with the outside world where once they 
had laughed and danced, loved and worked like other 
men ; looking eagerly at the new victims, if per- 
chance there might be one amongst them whom they 
had known in that life which now seemed so unreal, so 
far away. Little did they know that the tall young 
Priest with the courageous face and steadfast eyes was 
to bring them back from a state akin to the beasts that 
perish into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. 

The batch of shivering, moaning lepers having 
been landed, the Bishop and Damien stepped into the 
little boat which alone could brave tvlolokai's cruel 
rocks and surf-beaten shore and were rowed to the 
beach, where, after much tossing and delay, they at 
last stood among the throng of wretched, wondering 
humanity upon the island. And as he scrambled on 
to that inhospitable shore amid the rough, black 
rocks of petrified lava, Damien said to himself : 
" Now, Joseph, my boy, this is your life-work," 

Simple words, yet they hold the very essence of 

With a voice filled with emotion, the Bishop blessed 


these sad members of his flock and introduced their 
new shepherd, then, with a final farewell, retraced his 
steps over the rocks and re-embarked in the tossing 

The young Priest was alone with his people, alone 
on that island which Robert Louis Stevenson described 
as * . . , a pitiful place to visit and a hell to dwell in/ 

But even those words, strong as they seem, were 
written long afterwards, when, in comparison with 
that day of 1873 when Damien landed, the island was 
habitable, and all that love and skilled knowledge 
could accomplish had been performed. 

But at the time that Damien stood friendless and 
alone, with no shelter but that which the lepers could 
offer him, without even a change of linen, so hurried 
had been his departure, Molokai was hell indeed - 
hell with the lid completely removed. 

Molokai Ahina Molokai the Grey, known also as 
the * Isle of Precipices,' from the great walls of rock 
rising in places absolutely perpendicular from the sea 
- was a wild, weird land, volcanic in origin, with very 
few trees, bearing huge rocks of dense black lava, and 
not many flowers, haunted by the plaintive cries of the 
sea-birds and the brooding sense of ever-present pain 
and evil. 

The formation of the island resembles a willow leaf, 
that leaf which, shivering continually, droops its 
head as though in perpetual mourning. From east 
to west a formidable range of cliffs slopes gradually 
from the south side of the island to a height of two to 
three thousand feet above the sea, ending on the north 
in a sheer, almost vertical, precipice, covered in places 
with vegetation, and carrying on its surface dangerous 


little zigzag paths leading to the rough, rank grass of 
the plain below, where the two leper settlements are 
situated - Kalaupapa, at the landing-stage, and Kala- 
wao, three miles farther inland. 

In this one spot on the island there * projects into 
the ocean a certain triangular and rugged down, 
grassy, stony, windy, and rising in the midst into a 
hill with a dead crater ; the whole bearing to the cliff 
that overhangs it somewhat the same relation as a 
bracket to a wall.' 

There was no need for man to guard the leper 
settlements ; Nature had attended to that, with her 
twofold barrier of precipitous rock and surf-ridden sea. 
Six months before the arrival of the first batch of 
lepers in 1865, the natives living on this north side of 
the island sold their land to the Hawaiian Government 
and fled. The low stone walls dividing their plots of 
ground remained, as well as a few miserable, grass- 
thatched huts, which, filthy in themselves, were soon 
made unspeakably foul by the habits of their sick 
inmates. The hard, volcanic earth surrounding the 
rough settlement rapidly lost even the semblance of 
cultivation, quickly relapsing into a wilderness. The 
dying lepers were accommodated in a rough hospital 
till the hour when they were thrust into their waiting 
coffins and hurriedly buried in a hole painfully 
scratched by the poor maimed hands of their fellow- 
sufferers a foot or so below the surface. 

Scanty supplies of food and clothing were sent at 
intervals by the Government, but even at the best of 
times these were quite inadequate, as well as often 
delayed by the heavy storms which made landing on 
that treacherous island quite impossible. Molokai, 


beautiful in early dawn as some lovely siren hiding 
behind her veil of mist, is in reality a deadly harpy, 
luring men to destruction. 

It was indeed a very different land from that fair 
isle of the South Seas beloved of our childhood in the 
pages of The Swiss Family Robinson, whose amenities 
combined the advantages of Whiteley's and Selfridge's, 
together with interesting replicas of the Zoo and Kew 
Gardens. But none of these conveniences were a 
feature of the * Living Graveyard/ where over two 
thousand victims of leprosy had been landed since it 
had first become a settlement, and of whom eight 
hundred were still alive at the time of Father Damien's 
arrival. Misery, filth, despair, vice, and degradation 
were the only outstanding features of Molokai Ahina. 

It is possible to imagine that even the intrepid eyes 
of the young Padre gave one backward glance across 
the sea ere he followed his dreadful guides over the 
rough grass and hard boulders along the three miles 
to Kalawao the sea, the lovely Pacific, fresh and 
clean, which now divided him for ever from the land 
of the living, from all that he held dear ; that sea, blue 
as sapphire, brilliant as turquoise, where the deep 
black albatross moved free as air between heaven and 
earth. But it would only have been for a moment 
that Joseph Damien looked back ; the next instant 
he had turned to his people with that cheery, com- 
passionate smile which was to prove their constant 
joy and delight, the last thing their fading eyes beheld 
ere they closed in death. 

The smile of a beloved face - one of God's greatest 


gifts 1 The Gospels record that the Incarnate Lord 
wept never that He smiled. The reason is obvious ; 
the smile must have always been near the surface, for 
His eternal purpose was to bring joy to mankind, and 
joy is inseparable from a smile. So to His faithful 
followers He gives that lovely attribute of joyousness 
from which no worldly force can ever irrevocably 
separate the saints of God, that gift of which He cried 
aloud upon the eve of His Passion : " Holy Father 
. , . that they might have My joy fulfilled in them- 

It was a tiring, dreary walk to Kalawao with that 
halting, miserable crowd, but, like all earthly trials, it 
came to an end at last, and Damien was able to see the 
leper settlement in all its inadequacy, its filthiness, its 
pitiful misery. There was no need for the words which 
Dante saw inscribed above the gates of hell to be 
emblazoned in that place of suffering and degradation : 
* All hope abandon, ye who enter here 1 ' The very 
atmosphere shouted them aloud in notes strident and 

The actual village consisted merely of a few grass- 
thatched huts roughly thrown together with branches 
of the castor-oil tree, in which the lepers lived huddled 
together, entirely regardless of age or sex. Under the 
stone walls left by the former native inhabitants help- 
less women and children, unable to find room even in 
the miserable shelter of the huts, had been cast out 
to die. Within the foul atmosphere of the huts the 
stronger lepers quarrelled and fought, played cards, 
and danced with wild contortions and absolute aban- 
donment, increasing their frenzied excitement by 
copious draughts of the intoxicating ki-root beer, 


roughly distilled from a plant which grew in abundance 
along the base of the cliffs. Morality, cleanliness, 
friendly feeling, even ordinary humanity, were ab- 
solutely unknown, and those who fell under the 
influence of the liquor forgot all sense of decency, 
acting like madmen and running about nude. 

The slogan of the island, dinned into the young 
Padre's ears both in public and private, told much of 
the state of the colony : 'dole kanawai ma keia wahi ' 
- * In this place there is no law,' 

Small wonder that he found decency, morality, 
cleanliness, and friendship almost non-existent. A 
second slogan might quite easily have been added ; 
it was certainly implied, if not expressed : * Each 
for oneself, and the Devil take the rest/ 

That first night on the island the lepers would have 
made room for him in one of their wretched, evil- 
smelling huts, but this was more than even his courage- 
ous heart could contemplate, so, with many polite 
thanks, he retired from the scene of action beneath the 
shelter of one of the few trees which grew upon the 
island. Molokai has few redeeming features, but, in 
company with other islands of the Hawaiian group it 
enjoys complete freedom from snakes, that loathsome 
terror of the tropics, so that in this respect Damien was 
free from danger. 

An artist has pictured him kneeling alone beneath 
the branches, robed in his dark cassock, a Crucifix 
clasped in his hands. The light of the tropical moon 
shows his profile, clear-cut against the deep blue of the 
star-lit sky, steadfast and courageous. His thoughts 


on that first night seem almost too sacred for analysis 
yet as he kneels there alone, with the flickering moon- 
light playing over his young figure and clasped hands, 
memory brings to mind the thought of another Figure 
kneeling in the light of the same moon beneath the 
olive-trees in dark Gethsemane, ere at the same age he 
faced His own bitter Passion. 

One thing is certain of -that long night's vigil - that 
Damien's courage did not utterly fail him, even though, 
with the increased weariness which the night hours 
bring to a tortured soul, the horrors he had witnessed 
passed through his mind, yet, noble example of that 
brave little race whose country for so many centuries 
has been the cockpit of Europe, he did not shrink from 
his self-imposed task. 

Full well he must have realised that with his gifts 
of mind and body, his beautiful voice and charm of 
manner, he might have stood in vast cathedrals, sway- 
ing multitudes by the power of his eloquence, perhaps 
even have aspired to the Triple Crown and the Seat 
of St. Peter, Even to that exalted position his peasant 
birth would have been no obstacle. Yet above the loss 
of honours and ambitions, the praise of men and the 
homage of his peers, must have been the sword pierc- 
ing his affectionate heart - the knowledge that never 
again would his mortal eyes behold those he loved with 
such passionate ardour. Particularly on this night the 
thought of his mother's grief must have overwhelmed 
him, for knowingly and irrevocably to wound the heart 
%f a beloved and loving mother is one of earth's most 
poignant griefs. Perhaps at no time in the Passion 
Play of Oberammergau is the appeal of the Christus 
more touching than in that moment when He bids 


farewell to His blessed Mother at Bethany, knowing 
what depths of anguish He by His own actions must 
cause her to endure. 

Damien's affection for his home circle was a very 
powerful one. His companions in the days of Louvain 
relate that, while at dinner one Easter Sunday during 
his novitiate, one of their number, having received a 
letter from Damien's brother Pamphile, informed him 
of the death of his grandmother. The news had such 
an effect upon the affectionate boy that he changed 
colour and could scarcely contain himself sufficiently 
to remain at the table. 

Yet perhaps after all for he was but human, 
with humanity's natural shrinking from pain the 
thought dominating every other during that lonely 
night beneath the pandanus-tree was the certain 
realisation of the fate that sooner or later the future 
must surely bring the anguished torture of leprosy, 
the putrefaction of the living flesh, the disfigurement 
so loathsome that even his nearest and dearest would 
shrink from him -all perhaps but his mother, that 
loving, pious woman whom he would never dare to 
see again. And he was only thirty-three, gifted, full of 
the joy of life, sound in body and mind ! 

Perhaps of all the eulogy the Press awarded him after 
his death the Daily News showed the most sympathetic 
insight into the depths of the young Priest's sacrifice : 

* Death was not the danger to be dreaded there. 
Terror was the loathsome disease. Almost anyone 
will risk death in pursuit of some object he . ,f>. 
desires. To some men, death on the battlefield would 
seem nothing to shrink from. But death from the 
most loathsome malady imagination can conceive or 


observation describe - death as the result of long pro- 
tracted corruption and decay calls for the spirit of 
a martyr to volunteer for a death like that. Even of 
the leper saint, St. Finian, it is not recorded that he 
voluntarily became a leper for love and charity towards 
lepers. . . .* 

And what came forth from those hours, that night 
of mental torture ? Regrets, self-pity, terror for the 
future ? 

Nothing but thanksgiving for his health and 
strength, joy that the splendour of his young manhood 
could be poured forth in the service of his Lord and 
these His suffering children. 

The longest life of a leper on that island of weeping 
was but five years - perhaps that was all Damien had 
to live five years amid sights and sounds and scents 
unspeakable ; yet he came forth to live them rejoicing 
and giving thanks. This is the spirit which turns the 
world's values upside down ; this is the attribute 
which distinguishes the saint from his fellow, the virtue 
which gives to man the Vision of God, It is the echo 
of those great words from Corinth which ring down 
the centuries with ever-increasing beauty, as in every 
age men and women show forth their truth : * We 
glory in tribulations/ 

The following morning Damien was fully launched 
into his life-work. The news of his heroism spread 

1 la spite of this assertion, legend tella that St. Fmian took the malady of his 
own free will. See chapter viiu 


like wildfire through the islands, and a leading Hono- 
lulu paper concluded a wonderful eulogy with these 
words : * We care not what this man's theology be ; 
he is surely a Christian hero. . . . If this is not a 
faithful minister of the Gospel, we do not think he is 
to be found in these islands. , . / 

But Damien himself knew none of these things , 
the world had receded too far away ; he was occupied 
in providing the primary needs of humanity for his 
suffering people* And first to ease their unspeakably 
diseased and agonised bodies, and thus to reach the 
stifled and dying souls : * His preaching much, but 
more his practice wrought/ Damien himself was the 
living sermon. 

They were filthy beyond description, those poor 
lepers ; far more filthy than any animal in its coat of 
fur. Their miserable hovels were infinitely more re- 
volting than any wild beast's lair. Man, whose body 
has been the vehicle of the Incarnation of God, can 
sink lower than the brutes. 

Water was only obtainable by carrying it from a long 
distance on the poor, suffering shoulders, so that it 
was small wonder the lepers used very little of the 
precious liquid for cleansing their persons or the scanty 
rags which covered them. Damien's first duty was 
to kneel on the ground and gird himself with a towel, 
even as his Lord knelt to wash the feet of peasants, and 
try to bring some semblance of cleanliness to the poor, 
evil-smelling bodies, the reeking, sickening sores - an 
act of sublimest heroism, not performed in one gal- 
lant moment of wild enthusiasm, but in cold reality 
day after day, year after year, with full knowledge of 
the whole loathsome procedure it entailed. 


Occasionally he raises the veil from those hidden 
years, barricaded from the sight of the world behind 
Molokai's giant cliffs and dreaded scourge, but 
Damien, who, like Blessed Francis, had taken Holy 
Poverty as his Bride, crowned himself with her love- 
liest attribute, a gracious humility, so that it is rarely 
that consciously, from his own pen, the extent of his 
sacrifice is shown. It was from the lips of others that 
these things were known. Even in a letter to his 
dearest confidential friend and brother, Father Pam- 
phile, describing the conditions prevailing upon the 
island on his first arrival, there is little mention of him- 
self beyond the fact that often, while exercising his 
priestly duties in the lepers' miserable huts, he was 
forced to run outside for a breath of fresh air. On 
some of Molokai's unkind days, when an intense air- 
lessness and oppression lay upon the land, the poor 
young Padre's sufferings must have been terrible. 

In this connection he mentions that man's ever- 
ready friend and comforter, the well-seasoned pipe, 
was his preservation, besides saving him from carry- 
ing the nauseating odour of the sufferers in his clothes. 
Robert Louis Stevenson, in speaking of his visit to 
Molokai after Damien's death, describes himself as 
no more timid than the average man, yet the sights 
and sounds on that sorrowful island, even after all the 
reforms that Damien had accomplished, caused him 
to state that * life in the lazaretto is an ordeal from 
which the nerves of a man's spirit shrink, even as his 
eye quails under the light of the sun , . . a pitiful 
place to visit and a hell to dwell in. ... I never 
recall the days and nights I spent upon that island 
promontory (eight days and seven nights) without 


heartfelt thankfulness that I am somewhere else. 

As Damien's own letter admits, often when minister- 
ing to the sufferers in their little huts the effluvium was 
so overpowering that for all his endurance the Priest 
was obliged to retire hastily outside with a sick revul- 
sion that he was physically unable to conceal. 

For all his spirituality, Damien had plenty of com- 
mon sense. It is a general idea that a mystic has little 
knowledge of the practical necessities of everyday life. 
He is credited as being merely a visionary, whose soul 
dwells in heavenly places, but whose brain and fingers 
are useless to cope with such ordinary things as build- 
ing and sanitation, cooking and washing, mending and 
making, much less the more intricate problems of 
organisation and government. 

But that great mystic, Paul of Tarsus, besides 
bearing the care of all the Churches, laboured with his 
own hands weaving the tents of black goats' hair still 
used by the nomadic tribes of the desert ; Catherine 
. of Siena, whose ecstasies have been the wonder of each 
succeeding generation, was practical to a degree ; 
Francis of Assisi, the ' glorious * St. Francis, repaired 
churches with his own aristocratic, unaccustomed 

So Damien, whose communion with his Lord was 
such a living reality that in a moment he could pass 
from light-hearted gaiety, or the most revolting task, 
into complete absorption in prayer, gave himself at 
first almost entirely to the work of bettering his 
people's condition, knowing full well that the way to 
a starved and stunted soul lies through loving ministry 
to the suffering body. The most devout mind cannot 
concentrate on the sermon if the feet are cold, or there 


is a draught coming round from the vestry door. 

Shelter for those same poor bodies seemed to be the 
most crying need, and the practical side of Damien's 
nature quickly realised that example was the surest 
means to rouse his sufferers to action. Lethargy is a 
prevailing symptom of leprosy, and, although in the 
earlier stages of the disease exercise is essential, one 
doctor even going so far as to say a fifteen-mile walk 
every day, or its equivalent in manual labour, should 
be undertaken, it is a superhuman task to make the 
patient bestir himself, even in the slightest degree. 
But Damien, who in his Hawaiian parish had made the 
healthy, ease-loving Kanakas work with a willingness 
which astounded every white man who observed it, 
now set himself the task of making that same Kanaka 
work when he was not only sick, but bowed to earth 
with spiritual deadness, outstanding vice, and moral 
corruption. With his own hands the Padre started to 
build fresh huts, and, although at first he worked 
alone, little by little, as he had hoped, a few of the 
most able-bodied lepers, fired by his example, began 
to assist him. Damien's experience caused him to 
maintain that a leper who just let himself go, and 
allowed the disease to do what it would, without any 
attempt to exercise himself, soon wore a depressed 
appearance and threatened to become a complete 

Amidst so many necessities, the water-supply seemed 
the most urgent, and it caused the young reformer 
much anxiety to discover a means by which the exist- 
ing scarceness might be remedied. It was a matter 
for very real rejoicing when he learned that at the 
end of the valley of Waihanau there was a natural 


reserve which, even in times of drought, had never 
been known to dry up. 

With his usual directness, Damien set out at once 
on a journey of exploration, accompanied by two 
white lepers and several of his boys. Great was his 
delight when he came to a nearly circular basin of ice- 
cold water at the base of the high cliff. With charac- 
teristic energy he applied to the Hawaiian Government 
for a set of waterpipes, which on arrival were laid by 
those lepers who were sufficiently able-bodied to un- 
dertake such work, thus providing a constant supply 
of pure water for all purposes of drinking, washing, 
and bathing. This system of pipes thus laid was 
afterwards perfected under Government auspices* 

In after years some of Damien's detractors accused 
him of being dirty, an accusation which even Robert 
Louis Stevenson's wonderful Apologia in his ' Open 
Letter ' does not deny. Yet this seems somewhat 
difficult to believe, considering the young missionary's 
first action on the island of Molokai was to ensure an 
adequate supply of water so that his parishioners might 
have no excuse to neglect the washing of themselves and 
their clothes. Moreover, it is inconceivable that if 
Damien had not attended to this, the most elementary 
law of hygiene, in his own person, he would have 
escaped the virulent infection of leprosy for such a long 
period, living as he did continually in actual contact 
with it. 

Nor in connection with this accusation should it be 
forgotten that when, later on, he himself contracted 
leprosy, Damien took every precaution that the very 
few healthy persons with whom he came in contact 
should not receive any infection from him, and even 


when, perfectly whole, he on one or two rare occasions 
visited Honolulu and was honoured by being a guest 
at the King's palace, he insisted on sleeping on the 
bare floor, that there might not be the slightest risk of 
any contamination* All these things were not the 
natural actions of a man with dirty habits, 

It may be thought that on an island the question of 
personal cleanliness ought not to have presented any 
problem, sea water being always abundant. But 
conditions for the inhabitant of Molokai are very 
different from the merry holiday-maker at Margate 
or Blankenberghe. To the maimed and ailing leper 
the rough journey to the shore over rocks and pebbles 
was in many cases an impossibility, and the application 
of salt water to the raw wounds on his body an in- 
fliction of further misery not to be tolerated* As 
regards actual bathing, the amenities of Molokai do 
not hold out the inducements of our own comfortable 
resorts ; on calm days the adventurous can take a very 
pleasant shower-bath in the high-flung spray, but 
swimming is impossible owing to the fury of the waves 
and the unpleasant habits of the sharks who dwell 

Although he received some help in his work from 
the inhabitants, Damien realised that little good could 
be done in the colony until the evil of drunkenness 
had been thoroughly rooted out, The man who lays 
himself out to exterminate a vice runs the risk 
of immediate and permanent unpopularity. But 
Damien's courageous soul knew it was necessary to 
take the risk, Drunkenness never comes alone, and 
many of the lepers had sunk into a heathenistn which 
was nothing short of devilish. Having no hope in this 


world or any other, they had abandoned themselves to 
vice like the ungodly in the Book of Wisdom, only, 
poor, suffering souls, wedded to bodies one mass of 
putrefying corruption, left to die alone in their misery, 
they had more excuse than those men mentioned by 
the old songster, even though they persuaded them- 
selves as these men of old : 

' Our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man 
shall have our works in remembrance, and our life 
shall pass away as the trace of a cloud and shall be 
dispersed as a mist that is driven away with the beams 
of the sun. . . , Come on : let us enjoy the good 
things that are present, and let no flower of the spring 
pass by us . . . let us crown ourselves, with rosebuds 
before they be withered. ... * 

Only in Molokai, devil-dancing was the only flower 
of the spring ; ki-beer, which brought intoxicated 
forgetfulness, the only rosebud. 

It must have called forth every atom of courage 
which Damien possessed to deal with this question, 
but he bravely set to work by going round the settle- 
ment with * threats and persuasions/ until in the end 
the power of his personality prevailed upon the culprits 
to deliver up the utensils they used for the purpose of 
distilling. This process having been declared illegal 
by the Government, some of the most guilty were 
convicted, but were pardoned on giving a promise 
never to offend again. 

Unfortunately, reforms are never popular with 
evildoers, and Damien encountered fierce opposition, 
so that in bitter loneliness of mind and spirit he learnt 
to be hated for righteousness' sake by those for whom 
he was yielding up his very life-blood. It is a tragic 


example of the sin of ingratitude to know that this 
hatred did not cease for many years, but lay like some 
hidden serpent, venomous with poison, always ready 
to strike when most unexpected, until the hour when 
the news spread through Molokai - Molokai Ahina 
indeed that Damien himself was numbered among 
the lepers. Then in sorrow and contrition those who 
had been his adversaries became his friends, anxious 
for willing and loving service. 

Yet, in spite of the fierce opposition it aroused, the 
possession of the distilling instruments was a real 
landmark in Damien's ministry. At first he was able 
to accomplish little else of influence ; the Kanaka 
temperament, combined with the natural lethargy of 
leprosy, was content to be idle. As usual, he himself 
worked unceasingly night and day, doing everything 
for his people, even to the sad task of burying them, 
and through all they watched him, unconsciously 
imbibing his example. * That best portion of a good 
man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of 
kindness and of love,' 

Often, when ministering to the dying, bending over 
them with eyes full of pitiful tenderness, his beautiful 
voice speaking words of comfort and consolation, others 
lying sick in the hut would hear and perhaps take heed, 
so that gradually the power of his character took effect 
and a few began to gather together to hear him speak 
in the open, air, the place where Christianity first was 
preached to the sons of men abiding with their flocks 
by night beneath the open grandeur of the sky. 

One night during the year after Damien's arrival a 

1 Wordsworth. 


fierce storm broke over the island - the south wind, the 
cona, so much dreaded on that terrible shore. In a 
very short while the miserable grass huts were soaked 
and wrecked, leaving their wretched inmates, in all 
stages of the disease, covered only with their scanty 
clothing and drenched to the skin, moaning and 
shivering upon their mats* It is not surprising that in 
a very few days the grass beneath these sleeping-mats 
emitted a most unpleasant vapour. Yet this seeming 
disaster was a blessing in disguise, for it provided 
Damien with an excellent reason for urging the Hawai- 
ian Government to send building materials to the 
island without delay. The Government, which was to 
prove itself always open to advice or requests from 
Damien, responded by sending several shiploads of 
wooden framework and boards. 

Men of all trades were among the sufferers, includ- 
ing several carpenters. Some had a little money, and 
were thus able to do their share by buying the services 
of their poorer brethren. Others, inspired by the 
example of their Padre, found ingenious, pathetic 
ways of supplementing each other's loss of limbs. 
Already the island's slogan of * Each for himself ' 
was being broken down. The sweet scent of raw wood, 
the pleasant, homely sounds of carpentering, made a 
tiny oasis of wholesomeness in that desert of putre- 
faction and misery, and with the untiring assistance of 
Damien's strong young arms, and under his guidance, 
houses grew up and were whitewashed, ground was 
cleared and dug, taro and sweet potato were planted, 
and even little flower-gardens began to make their 

To the Hawaiian, flowers are the very salt of life, 


and they use them unstintingly for their personal 
adornment, even old women of ninety being known to 
crown their hoary locks with wreaths of blue blossoms 
and vivid green leaves. The making of the tightly 
packed garlands which, among other purposes, are 
used for throwing round the necks of coming and 
departing guests, constitutes quite an industry. Molo- 
kai's barrenness must have been an added affliction 
to the inmates' beauty-loving eyes. A few wild 
flowers grew among the rank tropical vegetation and 
amid the great black rocks of lava which strewed the 
ground the coarse wild ginger, with its handsome 
spikes of blossom ; a major convolvulus, lilac in 
hue ; a handsome white poppy, and a bright orange- 
coloured bloom with a milky stem. On the hills, 
generally too far off for the lepers' halting steps, the 
crimson-blossomed lehua were to be found, together 
with various prettily coloured berries, white, black, 
yellow, purple, and red, some of them quite good to 
eat. There were also magnificent ferns in various 
parts of the island, but on the whole it was a dreary 
place, devoid of the rich colouring to which the eyes of 
the South Sea islanders had always been accustomed. 
Modern treatment of the moral effects of leprosy, 
so much more soul-destroying than the average disease, 
has shown that Damien's psychology of making the 
sufferer work so far as his physical strength would 
allow is the best remedy for the prevention of degener- 
ation, and gardening is much encouraged in leper 
settlements as a very useful means of directing the 
patients' interest, being an employment by which the 
creative energies are used to a good purpose, producing 
results evident to their own eyes. 


Having dealt with the immediate problems of hous- 
ing and water supply, Damien next turned his attention 
to the question of provisions. Previous to his arrival, 
a small sailing-ship had been sent at varying intervals 
to the island, bringing food for the settlement. Un- 
fortunately, this supply was always inadequate, and 
often on arrival the heavy seas prevented the frail little 
boat from landing, or even remaining near the island, 
so that the miserable and often starving inhabitants 
had the anguish of seeing it depart without disembark- 
ing its cargo. 

Damien quickly petitioned the Government to send 
a steamer at regular intervals instead of using the 
obsolete method of a sailing-ship, so entirely at the 
caprices of the elements. The Government im- 
mediately responded, not only to his request for a 
steamer, but also for more adequate supplies. That 
these supplies were for some time confined only to 
common necessaries is evidenced by the fact that in 
1886, thirteen years after his arrival, Damien was still 
appealing for food. In this latter case he was asking 
for small luxuries - luxuries which in these days would 
count for urgent necessities - one being fresh milk, 
not one-tenth of the lepers outside the hospital having 
tasted it for years. 

Houses, water, food, and then clothing ! The 
sufferings of leprosy are much increased if the patient 
is cold or insufficiently clad, scanty clothing being 
responsible for feverish symptoms, bad coughs, swelling 
in the face and limbs, and even lung trouble. To a 
person in full health, cold caused by being underclad 


is a menace, but to a leper it spells certain disaster. 
On Damien's arrival he found that each sufferer had 
been receiving a few garments annually, but these were 
so insufficient that the whole colony was clothed in 
nothing but rags, entirely inadequate to meet the 
demands of the climate. Many of the hideous ulcers 
were neglected and uncovered simply from the lack of 
a bit of material to protect them and a morsel of salve 
to dress them. Small wonder that the simplest ailment 
carried off the victim ! At Damien's earnest request 
the Government provided him with materials to set 
up a little clothes store in each of the two villages, 
provided with warm cloth and flannel, also giving a 
money grant of six dollars a year to each leper that he 
might make his own purchases. 

Having been thus far successful in catering for the 
most elementary needs of his flock, Damien set to work 
to remedy the appalling state of the sick. There was 
neither hospital, doctor, nor nurse. Bandages and 
lint were non-existent ; medicine, except for a few 
native remedies, was unknown. The only provision 
made for the desperately ill and dying was a shed going 
under the name of hospital, absolutely empty, without 
beds or any conveniences whatever merely four walls 
and a roof. The dying leper was conveyed from his 
miserable hut on a cart, with his coffin beside him, and 
placed on the bare floor, there to await the end. The 
account of the horrors within those barren walls baffles 
all description ; it was a hell worse than the imagina- 
tion of man could possibly picture. 

One writer lifts the curtain for a brief instant, 
showing a leper child too far gone for food or drink, 
curled up in an awful heap of breathing corruption. 


On raising the corner of the blanket, a little face is 
seen on which can be traced but the smallest resemb- 
lance to humanity - dark skin puffed and blackened, 
covered with a kind of moss, gummy and glistening, 
the mouth, the sweet, innocent mouth of childhood, 
contracted so that the teeth grin out like a skeleton, 
the poor little tongue between them like a thickened 
fig, the eyelids curled tightly back so that the inner 
surface and awful eyeballs, shapeless and broken like 
burst grapes, are exposed. . . . 

Yet this picture is but an overture to the scenes of 
unparalleled horror which that charnel-house contained. 
And to such misery as this young Damien's pitying 
eyes had to grow accustomed during sixteen long years. 
Sixteen years, with nothing but lepers ! Lepers, 
morning, noon, and night, week in and week out, 
nothing but lepers 1 The only reason that soul and 
spirit did not break down under the strain must be 
that, in common with other saints before him, he saw 
in his people the suffering form of his Lord, hearing 
within in his heart the Divine whisper : * Ye did 
it unto Me.' 

It is possible that for his own comfort he may have 
remembered the sweet story of St. Elizabeth of 
Hungary, who, seeing a leprous child cast out and 
forsaken in the streets, took it home and put it to bed 
in one of the gorgeous rooms of her own palace. Her 
husband, naturally a little peevish at his young wife's 
action, visited the child, and found, not the scarred 
and repulsive form of a leper lying upon the bed, but 
the Incarnate loveliness of the Babe of Bethlehem. 
And, even as the Prince bent the knee before the 
wondrous vision, an angelic voice cried aloud ; 


" Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of 
these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." 

In season and out of season, with desperate energy 
Damien worked to improve the conditions of the 
dying, and at last was rewarded by the installation of a 
resident doctor and a public dispensary. 

It must not be thought that the history of those early 
years in the leper settlement proves that the Hawaiian 
Government was indifferent to the needs of its suffering 
sons and daughters sent to rot and die in their living 
graveyard amid that wild waste of waters. Rather 
they had simply let things slide for lack of public 
funds, and the absence of any kind of leader in Molokai 
itself, who could not only stand up and boldly state 
what was required, but also see that funds and goods, 
if forthcoming, were properly distributed. 

The twofold need of leadership and organisation 
was supplied by Damien, and the Government, quick 
to appreciate his usefulness, henceforth supported him. 
Indeed, after the accession of King Kalakaua their care 
and generosity for the poor exiles of Molokai were most 
praiseworthy. But it must never be forgotten that it 
was Damien who originated and inspired all their 

One of the saddest features of that dread island was 
the large number of friendless children - poor little 
leper waifs for whom it was nobody's business to care. 
But in the joyous, youthful Padre these little outcasts 
found a real father, one who not only attended to their 
needs, but played with them, talked to them, and 
withal loved them. Molokai Ahina had indeed taken 


on a new aspect when her surf-beaten shores echoed to 
the voices of children raised in games and laughter. 

Small wonder that as he moved about his work the 
young man was surrounded by a bodyguard of lads of 
all ages, like many a slum Priest. ' My boys,' as he 
always called them, were one of the few bright spots 
in his dreary life. And when these children, often so 
pitifully young, lay in their last agony, the playful, 
loving ' father ' became the most tender of nurses, 
and their last earthly vision was the sight of his pitying 
face bending over them. 

His most cherished plan was to build orphanages, 
one for the boys and another for the girls, and in course 
of time his dream came true. The two white houses 
grew up close to his own little cottage, so that he could 
still be the orphans' father and mother, teacher, Priest, 
and playmate. Here they were instructed in useful 
arts, the girls being taught needlework and similar 
useful employments, the boys tasks more suited to 
their hands. 

With regard to children still living with their 
parents, Damien held classes in the open air until it 
was possible to erect a school. It is certain that under 
his regime these poor little ones were not unhappy. 
The children of leprous parents, who themselves 
showed no sign of the disease, were also well cared for 
in the Kapiolani Home at Honolulu. 

The most urgent of his reforms having been carried 
out, Damien called upon his helpers to assist him in 
building two churches, one at Kalawao and the other 
at Kalaupapa. It is safe to say that the greater part of 
the building was carried out by his own hands. 


It is in the building of these two churches that one 
of many comparisons may be drawn between the lives 
and circumstances of Damien of Molokai and Francis 
of Assisi. 

It was in the little wayside chapel of San Damiano 
(the saint from whom the leper Priest took his name 
in religion), nestling broken and forlorn among the 
silvery olives above the white roofs of Assisi, that 
Francis, as he knelt before the stone Altar, gazing at 
the flat, gilded Crucifix roughly painted above it, 
beheld the ugly, austere Figure break into the gracious 
form of youth and life, speaking with tender tones, 
bidding him set to work to build his church, which 
was nearly falling down, Francis, with the quick 
impetuosity so characteristic of himself, and of Damien 
also in his generation, took the Divine Call literally, 
and, standing in the market-place of Assisi, singing his 
gay troubadour songs, begged for stones to carry out 
the work, afterwards bearing them in a hod on his 
frail, aristocratic shoulders up the mountain-side, 
week after week, and month after month, until his 
hands, torn and blistered by the unaccustomed toil, 
had painfully built up the little shrine, and St. Damian's 
Altar was once more sheltered by worthy surroundings. 

This work completed, the young enthusiast repaired 
a little chapel dedicated to St Peter, the exact site of 
which is unknown, finishing his arduous task by the 
building up of the Portuincula, or the Chapel of St. 
Mary of the Little Portion, one of the holiest places 
in Christendom. Here, as in the chapel of San 
Damiano, the pilgrim can touch the veritable fabric 
placed in position by St. Francis's hands, those toil- 
worn hands which in earlier years had known nothing 


harder than the tuning of a lute or the penning of a 
sonnet to some fair lady, yet were destined to bear the 
sacred Stigmata, the veritable marks of the Passion. 

Of these two shrines, that of San Damiano seems to 
the devout lover of the saint the more nearly to speak 
of his presence, bringing to life the joyous enthusiasm 
df his amazing personality. 

Damien also built churches with his own hands, 
both during his early ministry in Hawaii and later in 
Molokai, labouring with the same toil and devotion 
as Francis before him, save that in the latter's case he 
worked alone, while Damien, though undoubtedly 
taking the lion's share himself, was aided by his * boys/ 
His hands also were destined to bear the marks of the 
Passion - the hideous wounds of leprosy, a Stigmata 

The first church at Kalawao, built almpst entirely 
by his own labour, was later incorporated into the larger 
church, so that it is possible for visitors literally to 
touch Damien's work in the same way that the devout 
pilgrim to Assisi can place his fingers upon the actual 
stones laid by St. Francis. 

The two churches on the island of Molokai were 
brilliantly tinted inside to please the colour-loving 
islanders, the exterior being surrounded by grave- 
yards, which filled at the average rate of a funeral 
each day. Few Priests have the heart-rending task of 
not only ministering continuously to the dying, but of 
burying one of their parishioners every day, often 
digging their graves, and even making the actual 
coffins. It is estimated that Damien made at least one 
thousand coffins on Molokai with his own hands. 
And this constantly, in addition to his many far more 


repulsive duties, without any break or holiday what- 
soever, except on the few rare occasions when he went 
to a neighbouring island for the purpose of making 
his Confession. 

Nobly and completely he interpreted the words of 
Dr. Pusey, to an extent which that saintly man had 
never even visualised : ' Think nothing too little, 
nothing too low, to do lovingly for the sake of God.* 

He buried the dead side by side, Roman Catholics 
and other Creeds alike, without any question. But, 
although within the sheds close by the graveyards the 
dread sound of nails being driven into the waiting 
coffins was constantly heard, he had taken away the 
sting of death. 

Molokai Ahina ~ Grey Molokai - the Living Grave- 
yard 1 Yes 1 But a graveyard where the spirit of peace, 
forerunner of the Angel of the Resurrection, was 
already spreading his enveloping wings. 



THE greatest needon that islandof misery was for 
a spiritual leader. Lack of the Gospel's refin- 
ing influence had enabled vice to triumph over 
virtue, and those most sunk in debauchery to act as 
heads of the community. 

It is always difficult to separate the secular from the 
spiritual, the ministry to the body from that of the soul, 
and more and more it is proved that the services of 
Priest and doctor are akin. To the Christian, the 
sending for a Priest to come to the sick-bed should be 
as natural as calling in the physician, and the idea that 
the ministry of the former is only required when the 
patient is apparently at death's door is a complete 
misunderstanding of the powers with which Christ 
has endowed His Church. 

It is almost impossible to differentiate between the 
two sides of Damien's work on Molokai, but an en- 
deavour must be made to realise his use of his priestly 
office, for it was as a Priest, whose heart was stirred 
with a deep longing to bring the Bread of Life to these 
lost and starving sheep, that he had sailed out from 
Hawaii in the crimson and gold of that tropical sunset, 
out into the menacing darkness, untried and unknown. 

His was above all a ministry to the sick and dying, 
so that first and foremost he put the necessity for re- 
conciling liis people to God. He was essentially a 



mediator ; one who, bearing in his own heart the con- 
tinual knowledge of the Presence of God, strove always 
to bring all souls entrusted to him into the stream of 
that Divine Love. Moreover, he bore in his character 
three of the most precious of priestly attributes - a 
beautiful humility, a firm belief in the good inherent 
in every human soul, however deeply submerged in 
sin or despair, and the compelling power to bring men 
back to God. Browning's words might have been 
written of him in his ministerial character : 

Would I fain, with my impotent yearning 

, Do all for this man, 

And dare doubt he alone shall not help him 
Who yet alone can ? 

One of his letters gives an interesting insight into 
this part of his labours. He relates that every morn- 
ing after Mass he. gave instruction in the Faith, fol- 
lowed by a round of visits to the sick. On entering 
each of the huts, he offered to hear the Confessions of 
the sufferers. Damien, who was such a true father to 
all, did not refuse temporal assistance to those who 
rejected his spiritual ministrations, but his big, loving 
heart must have grieved over those few who refused to 
accept his services. That he was prepared to go to the 
utmost limits for his people is revealfed by his own 
words : * I make myself a leper among the lepers, to 
gain all for Jesus Christ/ 

With regard to those few who rejected his services, 
it was a repetition of the history of St. Catherine of 
Siena, who, after nursing a leprous old woman named 
Tecca at the lazar-house of the city, was rewarded by 
having her honour slandered by the patient in the 


most villainous manner. True, the approach of death 
brought the hoary old sinner to repentance, but 
Catherine suffered much from her maliciousness before 
this came to pass, besides enduring the outbreak of a 
suspicious eruption on her hands, which, however, 
entirely disappeared after the girl saint had performed 
the last offices for the dead leper and even buried the 
horrible corpse herself. Many and varied are the 
gifts which the saints bring into the city of God. 
Damien's offering was to be a life given for his friends 
in all the lingering horrors of a leper's death ; Cath- 
erine's sacrifice had been rendered up in another form 
of self-abnegation and mental anguish. 

Damien speaks with conscious pride, not in himself, 
but in his office, giving an example of the missionary's 
power. Several of the younger people, all except two 
being Mormons or Calvinists, in common with sec- 
tions of youth in every generation since the days of 
Cain, became discontented with their lot, feeling they 
were being unjustly treated by the ' powers that be,' 
and so attempted a revolt. The Padre merely had to 
show himself and make a very short speech, and the 
embryo rioters hung their heads and became as 
docile as Tommy discovered with his fingers in the 

In this same letter to Father Pamphile, Damien 
mentions that since his arrival on the island he had 
baptised more than two hundred persons, of whom a 
goodly number had passed to their rest with their 
white robes of Baptismal grace still fresh and beautiful. 
A distressing glimpse of the destitution of these poor 
creatures is afforded by the young Priest's remark 
that many were too poor even to defray any of their 


funeral expenses, so that he was obliged to bury them 
merely wrapped in a blanket. 

It is certainly beyond our imagination to visualise 
the horrors upon which Damien was daily obliged to 
gaze. No other proof is needed of his powers of endur- 
ance, both mental and physical. Only on very rare 
occasions does he raise for a moment the veil with 
Which he hid his shuddering soul. * ... I have had 
opportunities of touching human misery with my 
hand under its most terrible aspect. Half the people 
are like living corpses, which the worms have already 
begun to devour ; at first internally, afterwards ex- 
ternally, until they make most loathsome wounds 
which very rarely heal. To form an idea of the 
effluvium, imagine what the stench of Lazarus's tomb 
must have been. . . .' 

And this was the man whom a Protestant minister, 
presumably set apart to teach the Gospel of Christian 
love, living in comfort, even luxury, in lovely Honolulu, 
dared to criticise, to slander, and to abuse ! 

The author of this outrage was a Protestant min- 
ister, a certain Presbyterian named C. M. Hyde, who 
had never set foot in Molokai, and probably never even 
exchanged a word with Father Damien, although it is 
possible he may have just seen him pass by in the 
street on one of the Padre's rare visits to Honolulu. 
A man of petty mind and narrow vision, there lurked 
at the bottom of his colossal conceit a lingering spark 
of conscience which in the midst of his easy-going 
and comfortable existence let in horrid little draughts 
through his enveloping mantle of self-righteousness. 

The knowledge of the Roman Priest's superb sacri- 
fice fanned this spark to flame, but, as is so often the 


case with little tin gods like Mr. Hyde, the contem- 
plation of another's man's heroism filled his mean 
little soul, not with the desire of imitation, but with the 
consuming fires of jealousy. In his luxurious manse, 
which was a by-word even among the cab-drivers of 
Honolulu, he shuddered as he pictured himself on 
Damien's loathsome island, possibly wondering - oh, 
awful thought whether the members of his congre- 
gation were drawing odious comparisons between 
himself and that low-born Popish fellow whose body 
lay in its leper's grave on Molokai's terrible shore. 

With a pen dipped in gall, he wrote his infamous 
letter to his brother minister in Australia, the Rev. 
H. B. Gage of Sydney, accusing the dead Priest of 
having contracted his disease through vice and careless 
living, of having had no hand in the reforms which 
had been accomplished on the leper island, and even 
of taking up his Work without the necessary orders 
from authority. 

History knows no more cruel and iniquitous libel 
than this. But a great champion was to arise to defend 
the honour of Joseph Damien by means of the finest 
apologia known to literature. To the everlasting glory 
of England, to which country the departed Padre had 
shown such touching gratitude, this champion was a 
Britisher - none other than the famous author, Robert 
Louis Stevenson. 

Picking up a newspaper some months after Mr. 
Hyde's letter had been written, Stevenson found that 
Mr. Gage had sent his ' dear ' brother's epistle to the 
Sydney Presbyterian, which organ had published it in 
full. Once before the great English writer had heard 
a rumour of a slander on Damien's virtue, but the 


speaker, a drunken scoundrel in a low bar on the island 
of Samoa, had been hounded down even by the crowd 
of dissolute beachcombers around him as a person 
entirely outside the pale. But here in black and white 
before Stevenson's very eyes was the full disgusting 
libel, and he, a man of action, who himself had visited 
Molokai a short while after Damien's death, im- 
mediately penned his * Open Letter to the Rev. Dr. 
Hyde of Honolulu/ in which for all time he vindicated 
him from the accusations brought against him. 

Although Stevenson had received several courtesies 
from Mr. Hyde for which until that moment he had 
been proportionately grateful, the opening words of 
his letter 1 give an index to the righteous anger which 
burned within his soul as he read the minister's in- 
famous words. 

* Your letter to the Rev. H. B. Gage is a document 
which in my sight, if you had filled me with bread 
when I was starving, if you had sat up to nurse my 
father when he lay a-dying, would yet absolve me from 
the bonds of gratitude. . . . * 

One by one Stevenson treats the charges made 
against Damien, with that lucidity and balanced 
judgment which reveal his early legal training, show- 
ing their baseness, their cruelty, and their falsehood 
with that mastery of language of which he was so 

Recollecting all that had been told him on his visit to 
Molokai, he endeavours to be perfectly just, so that he 
acknowledges the faults in this * plain, noble, human 
brother and father of ours ; whose imperfections are 
the traits of his face, by which we know him for our 

1 February 25th, 1890. 


fellow, and whose martyrdom and example nothing can 
lessen or annul* 

Officious, he calls him, shrewd, ignorant, bigoted, 
rough in his ways, with no authority, domineering and 
indiscreet, yet possessed of great good humour, cer- 
tainly of the peasant type, yet with the wonderful 
generosity of his caste, which, often putting to shame 
the wealthy, will give away its last shirt, though not 
without a certain amount of perfectly human grumb- 

Stevenson further refers to the bad state of the boys' 
home, which Damien's brother-officials called his 
* Chinatown/ a name which had only brought forth 
the father's genial laugh. He who had been doctor, 
nurse, wardmaid, and dispenser for so many years 
alone even ventured to set himself up against the 
remedies of his regular rivals. Just like a naughty 
boy who would have his own way 1 But if obstinacy 
were one of his failings, then it is not surprising he 
found it hard to submit to authority, even the doctor's 
authority for which he himself had asked, after so 
long a time being his own master. 

It may be thought that the above criticisms belittle 
Damien's work and character, seeming to bring the 
saint down to a very human level. But it is this very 
humanity which makes him so lovable, so much a 
man among men, a personality of our own time and 

And, in considering these failings as set in the midst 
of Robert Louis .Stevenson's otherwise powerful 
eulogy, several points must be borne in mind. First 
of all, Damien was dead, and much of the author's 
information came from the lips of those very officials 


whose little minds had been offended by the father's 
greatness, men who exemplify the truth of Shakes- 
peare's sarcastic couplet : 

The evil that men do lives after them, 
The good is oft interred with their bones. 

Secondly, the writer had never seen Damien at 
work - he had no personal knowledge of the love his 
people bore him, the qualities which outshone his 
weaknesses. Further, Robert Louis Stevenson was 
not a Catholic, and his mind, though it contained a far 
more beautiful and exalted conception of Christ than 
many might suspect, could never realise the intense 
devotion, the earnest zeal, the sublime faith that 
Dainien kept alive by sacramental worship, and which 
Edward Clifford, a member of the Anglican Church, 
was more able to realise and record. Moreover, 
Stevenson's Protestant conscience shrank from much 
intercourse with the Roman Priests and Sisters, feeling 
more at home with the officials, whose religion, if they 
had any, did not bring terrifying thoughts of the Scarlet 
Woman and the Seven Hills. Indeed, he himself 
admits that he was a little suspicious of Catholic 
testimony, so that all his facts were collected from the 
lips of those very Protestants who had defied the father 
all his life. Thus he missed hearing of Damien from 
those who knew him best. Yet in spite of this he states 
that even the very story of the dead Priest's failings 
* builds up the image of a man, with all his weaknesses 
essentially heroic, and alive with rugged honesty, 
generosity, and mirth.' 

Damien had great difficulty in getting used to the 


foul atmosphere which surrounds a leper, more partic- 
ularly when several were gathered together, this being 
most marked when in church. One Sunday, while at 
Mass, the effluvium was so overpowering he felt im- 
pelled to leave the Altar in order to be able to breathe. 
But swiftly to him who lived ever in the Presence of his 
Lord came the thought of that same Christ when the 
grave of Lazarus was opened, so that he was able to 
endure until the end. Only those who possess an acute 
sense of smell will realise the extent of sacrifice this 
demanded. After a time he grew more acclimatised, or 
perhaps, mercifully, his nasal faculties were dulled by 
continual exposure to the tainted atmosphere. Often 
he scarcely knew how to administer Extreme Unction 
to those poor sufferers whose hands and feet were 
nothing but raw and open wounds. 

Perhaps hearing Confessions was the most trying of 
all, for leprosy so weakens the throat that the voice 
becomes almost inaudible, causing the Priest to have 
to bend very close to the sufferer's lips, inhaling not 
only the foetid breath, but also the whole atmosphere of 
corruption surrounding the poor decaying body. Nor 
is this the worst feature, for often the disease brings a 
sudden haemorrhage from the mouth, of a particularly 
offensive nature, for which the Priest must be fully 
prepared. The strain of concentration necessary for a 
Priest when hearing the Confession of an ordinary 
person is increased tenfold when accompanied by 
these terrible physical drawbacks. 

It is true these details are horrible, in fact revolting, 
yet to understand Damien's daily life it is necessary 
to walk with him at least figuratively upon his sorrowful 


Ruysbroeck, that heroic Priest of Brussels, a com- 
patriot of Damien, of whom it was said that he went to 
and fro in the streets of the city * with his mind per- 
petually lifted up into God/ describes in his Book of 
the Twelve Beguines the life of one who * ministered to 
the world without in love and mercy : whilst inwardly 
abiding in simplicity, in stillness, and in utter peace.' 
It was only by the nearness with which he lived to his 
Lord that Damien was able to preserve a sane mind and 
a serene spirit. 

Another letter, written to his beloved brother 
Pamphile in the far-off convent at Louvain, nearly 
seven years after his landing on Molokai's desolate 
shore, gives a slight insight into his powers of endur- 
ance and the undaunted courage with which he carried 
on his task. An unusually large number of his Chris- 
tian parishioners had succumbed to their malady 
during the previous year, so that the Padre's kind eyes 
sorrowfully noted the empty places in the church, 
knowing that his own hands had been obliged to help 
fill the cemetery outside, where there was now barely 
room to dig the graves. He had buried 190 to 200 
victims every year, and still there were always upwards 
of 700 on the island. It is possible to glimpse a little 
weariness, almost a trace of petulance, in the brave 
words of the letter as he remarks on his vexation on 
finding that a grave had been dug close by the large 
Cross in the cemetery in the exact place he had chosen 
for himself, and which he was able to insist should be 
kept for him. 

Surrounded all day by sights and sounds of such 
unspeakable horror, at night he was quite alone in his 
little cottage, sole guardian of these beloved dead - the 


church, cemetery, and presbytery forming one single 

Under conditions such as these it seems that a 
man's heart and brain must harden or break. But 
Damien's did neither. And yet he was so entirely 
alone for, apart from the barrier which their disease 
and degradation must of necessity erect between them, 
his parishioners were not of his own race, and, with 
but few exceptions, not even of his own colour. 

Race, colour, poverty, sickness - they are no barriers 
in the great Brotherhood of Christ ; but to a man 
labouring as Damien was labouring there must at 
times have come the overpowering longing to clasp the 
hand of one who could really understand, and who 
thought in the same terms as himself. Friendship and 
love he received from his people, but not the under- 
standing which forms the only true companionship. 
That is the thing which the isolated missionary most 
lacks, and which, if he is not careful, may wreck his 
life and his work the need of companionship of one 
who understands. It is this spiritual loneliness, this 
loneliness in a crowd, which is the greatest desolation 
of all. 

But Damien held the key which unlocked for him 
a companionship, a complete understanding, which 
alone prevented him from fleeing in horror and despair 
from that island of misery. From his own lips we 
learn the secret : 

* Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like 
mine would be unbearable. But as I have Our Lord 
always with me, I am happy, and work with ardour to 
procure the happiness of my dear lepers/ 

His Lord always with him ! The simple faith of a 


child, yet sublimest wisdom of the ages ! The know- 
ledge of the continual indwelling Presence of the 
Lord in the Blessed Sacrament - immanent and tran- 
scendent ! A letter to a loved one at home in sore 
distress gives the same thought -even across the 
world the Blessed Presence is ever the same : 

4 Here in your midst is One who can turn your 
sorrow into joy. Go to Him, then, who dwells in 
the Tabernacle. Go to Him ! He will console 

That was Damien's secret -the continual walking 
with his Lord, finding Him first in his own appointed 
means of grace, then seeing Him again in his suffering 
* little ones/ It is the philosophy of the saints, nobly 
expressed in this generation by a missionary bishop 1 
ere he returned to die in his far-off African diocese : 

* You must walk with Christ, mystically present 
in you, through the streets of this country, and find 
the same Christ in the people of your cities and 
your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus 
in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the 

The student of hagiology must often have been 
struck with the affinity in the lives of the saints. Some- 
times this spiritual relationship is worked out by 
mystical friendship of two who in the world lived cen- 
turies apart. The tie which existed between St. Joan 
and her patrons, Catherine, the martyred princess of 

1 Frank Wcston, Bishop of Zanzibar. 


Alexandria, and Margaret, the maid of Antioch, is a 
well-known example ; the inspiration of the Cur 
d'Ars bestowed by his beloved little friend Philomena 
of Rome is another case in point. 

An aspect of this spiritual affinity is found in the 
likeness of character and even certain similarity of cir- 
cumstances by which saints of different centuries are 
bound together. In this connection it is no pretty 
fancy which links the life and work of Joseph Damien 
with that of St. Francis of Assisi in the bonds of 
similarity of character and achievement. Both were 
joyous and adventurous. Each embraced Poverty, 
that holy, mystic Bride, with utmost fervour, Francis 
entering on his life-work with literally no possession 
but the hair shirt which covered his nakedness, Damien 
without even a roof over his head. 

St. Francis, the 'seraphic saint of humility,' whose 
lovers have ranked him next to Our Lady and St. Paul 
in the hierarchy of saints, took the first step in his 
amazing career by loving ministry to the lepers of 
Assisi, and perhaps of all his works of self-abnegation 
this should be numbered amongst the greatest, inas- 
much as the mere thought of leprosy caused him to 
shudder with the sick repulsion only fully understood 
by the ultra-sensitive, a repulsion which amounted to 
genuine terror. 

Psychologists maintain that each soul has its secret 
fear, a skeleton hiding in the underground recesses of 
the mind, prepared to spring forth and rattle its bones 
without any rhyme or reason. With some it may be 
brought forth by a thing so trivial as the soft and 
sinuous presence of a cat ; with others it may be the 
less concrete * ghoulies and ghosties, long leggetty 


beasties, and things that go bump in the night* ; or 
it may be the terror of great heights or crowded assem- 
blies which brings forth this nightmare feeling of 
unreasoning horror. 

With Francis it was quite simple, direct, concrete 
- the terror of any contact with a leper. This was not 
so much the fear of contracting the disease, but the 
sheer physical shrinking from the sufferer and his 
loathsome malady. 

Italy in St. Francis's day, as indeed all parts of 
Europe, was infested with leprosy, fostered by neglect 
of the most elemental laws of hygiene and the insuffi- 
ciency of personal cleanliness a far cry from the days 
of heathendom, when the Roman baths were the 
wonder of the world. The leper hospital, or lazaretto, 
of Assisi stood outside the gate of San Salvatore on a 
road which the elegant young Francis Bernardone 
avoided like the very plague, and his nervous horror 
of those who dwelt within its walls rose ever higher 
and higher like the tide of some inflowing sea. The 
crisis came with lightning-like rapidity during that 
period when the young noble's soul, torn hither and 
thither like some helpless craft at the mercy of the 
storm-tossed waves, was on the verge of complete 
collapse between the world he loved and the God he 

Riding one day towards Assisi after an expedititfn, 
he came to a place where the road forked. A single 
figure only was in sight, a leper, making his painful 
way along one of the two white roads. Francis's recoil 
was so violent that his horse reared back on its 
haunches, then, swerving, dashed down the other road. 
It was the crisis of the young man's life, and by the 


grace of God he met it with startling heroism. Rein- 
ing in the terrified animal, he swung him round, gal- 
loping swiftly towards the leper. Springing from the 
saddle, he placed an alms in the poor, dreadful hand, 
then, drawing himself up, looked firmly into the face 
eaten away with disease, and, folding the sufferer in 
his arms, kissed him tenderly. A strong, superhuman 
impulse, dictated, it might be said, by the urge of the 
moment ; but with Francis a thing was never done by 
halves, so that on the morrow he carried his heroism 
to a higher plane. Dressed in his richest robes, strong, 
graceful, young, and ardent, he went through the 
dreaded gateway to San Salvatore delle Pareti, the 
leper hospital, and, though actually shivering with 
horror and distaste, rang the bell. 

As he stepped inside the building, the sufferers ran 
towards him, wild with excitement and delight. Their 
onrush, their nauseous presence, their revolting ap- 
pearance, made the luxurious young nobleman faint 
with revulsion, but with a strong effort he bravely gave 
them of his best - his merry talk, his quick, infectious 
laughter, his charming smile. Handing gifts all 
round, he completed his visit by kissing each poor, 
sad hand, and from that day one of his chief labours of 
love was to comfort and minister to these wretched 
outcasts of society. A little later on, after renouncing 
his father's house, he went to the lazaretto at Gubbio, 
laughing and singing as he dressed the hideous sores 
of the inmates. And in due time he reaped his reward, 
for in future years, when all men seemed against him, 
one ray of light brightened the darkness of his soul, as 
in his inner consciousness he beheld the faces of the 
lepers he had befriended, and heard their voices 


asserting with threefold iteration : " But we love you, 
we love you, we love you." 

They are the confirmation of the words of St. 
Vincent de Paul, four centuries later : 'We may do 
what we will, but we shall never win the faith of any- 
one whom we want to convince unless we have shown 
him our love and compassion/ 

Damien, though apparently possessed of no secret 
terror, nevertheless recoiled with all the strength of 
his manly health and vigour from the proximity of 
such loathsome suffering, yet pursued his chosen course 
with the same gay courage as Francis the merry 
laugh, the musical voice, the tender sympathy 
bridging the centuries between Assisi and Molokai, 
and he, equally with Francis, in this respect might be 
named the Jongleur de Dieu c God's Troubadour/ 

Both were called upon to build up Christ's Church 
on earth ; Francis in a world-wide sense as a new 
apostle of the Cross, the Apostle of Poverty ; Damien 
as the saviour of the afflicted whom all others had re- 
jected and forgotten. 

A difficulty in Damien's own spiritual life was the 
obstacles which lay in his fulfilment of the obligation 
of Confession. No brother Priest being available, it 
was necessary for him to go to another island. He was 
in perfect health ; there was no reason why he should 
not leave Molokai for a few hours. On the first suit- 
able occasion, when the steamer brought a fresh batch 
of lepers to the settlement, Damien returned to Hono- 
lulu, and to his surprise received a very cold welcome 
at the office of the Board of Trade. On explaining that 


every Priest was bound to make his Confession, he was 
told that if he returned to Molokai he must never again 
visit Honolulu. 

With a touch of spirit, Damien replied that his one 
desire was to return to his people as quickly as pos- 
sible, but, being a monk, he was under a vow of obedi- 
ence to spiritual authorities and he could not allow the 
civil law to interfere with the higher law of the Church. 
He then suggested that if, instead of coming to Hono- 
lulu, he rowed across from Molokai to the Priest in 
charge of the neighbouring island of Maui, this would 
meet all requirements. But, in spite of the testimony 
to the Board of Trade of well-known doctors in the 
island that Priests and physicians were exempt from 
the rule that was binding on other men, the President 
would not agree to the proposal. 

Damien had only returned a short while to Molokai 
when he received a notice stating that he must never 
leave it again. His life's work was there, chosen and 
accepted ; nothing but duty would ever call him 
away, even for an hour ; but he replied with righteous 
indignation that he must be left free to do what was 
right, and in course of time he received another official 
notice giving him permission to go where he chose at 
any time, so that occasionally when he desired to make 
his Confession he was able to cross over to Maui. 

But in the meanwhile, before this order came 
through, Damien was compelled to undergo a spiritual 
ordeal, as great as befel any saint or martyr obliged to 
profess his Faith before a sceptical, hostile world. 
Monseigneur Maigret, his Bishop, on one of his tours 
through his island diocese, wished the captain of his 
steamer to put him ashore at Molokai. The captain 


refused, saying such a proceeding was forbidden by 
Government. Disappointed, doubtless annoyed, but 
nothing daunted, the Bishop persuaded him to lie off 
the shore and signal to Damien. 

Within a short while the young Priest had entered a 
boat and was rowed by his leper crew close to the 
steamer. * The passengers standing by the rail watched 
with much interest as he drew near. In all probability 
their curiosity was inspired by a friendly feeling, even 
admiration, but for Damien it was an ordeal as search- 
ing as by fire, for the captain, still persisting in his 
refusal to allow the missionary on board, protested 
that no one on the steamer spoke French, so that 
Damien could make his Confession in that language 
and none but the Bishop would understand its import. 
Whether his statement were true was never known ; 
if any person on board that boat understood the lang- 
uage in which Damien spoke he mercifully kept it to 
himself as a sacred trust. 

Only those in the habit of making their Confession 
can fully realise the desire for privacy in that most 
intimate transaction of the soul, stripped naked before 
its God as in the Day of Judgment, when the penitent, 
enumerating each transgression, confesses to God the 
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and before the 
whole company of Heaven, that he has sinned exceed- 
ingly in, thought, word, and deed, by his fault, his 
own fault, his own most grievous fault. These alone 
can appreciate the young Priest's deep humiliation as 
he knelt in the canoe amidst his Kanaka crew, with that 
row of strange, curious eyes closely watching from the 
steamer's side. It was a piece of refined cruelty, 
worthy of the most barbarous age. Truly, when the 


Bishop, leaning over the side, still speaking in French, 
pronounced the words of Absolution, few Absolutions 
were more gladly given or more gratefully received. 

There is no record that Damien himself ever men- 
tioned this experience, but it is certain that he looked 
upon it as only another incident in his faithful bearing 
of the Cross, His attitude towards life in general is 
ably summed up in the sympathy he expressed later to 
a brother in bereavement : 

* You have had * a great trial. Dorothea's death 
must have been a sore loss to you. But what would 
you have ? Almighty God intends to teach you not 
to attach yourself to the things of this world. Let us 
remember that it is a place of exile, and that those who 
die in the Lord are far happier than you or I who are 
left here below. Sometimes I am inclined to envy my 
poor sick Christians when I administer the Last 
Sacraments to them and bury them/ 

* What Would you have ? * Damien, so like an 
Englishman in many of his characteristics, so much 
so that in later years he used the language continually, 
betrays here his Belgian origin. It is possible to 
visualise the Continental gesture which would have 
accompanied it, so humorous, so fatalistic the shrug 
of the shoulders, the stiffly-upthrown hands ; only in 
Damien's case the fatalism is replaced by complete 
and loving surrender to the will of God. 

It was no easy task getting those drink-sodden, 
disease-ridden Kanakas to believe in the love of God, 
and surely psychology has rarely seen a greater miracle 
than this that in their wretchedness and misery they 


learnt to love him in return. But Damien, the peasant 
Priest, accomplished even this. 

Some of his detractors accused him of having the 
mind and character of a Kanaka. Quite likely ! It 
is scarcely possible to live and work almost entirely 
alone amid an alien race for twenty-five years without 
absorbing some of their characteristics. But it is not 
necessary these characteristics should be of an evil 
tendency or have a degrading influence. 

' A man of the peasant class 1 ' they scoffingly 
called him. So, according to our lights and in spite of 
His descent from the royal house of David, was JESUS 
of Nazareth, together with many of His apostles ; so 
to-day are the villagers of Oberammergau, who 
represent His Passion with such royal and touching 
dignity. And what of Abraham Lincoln and Musso- 
lini, of Joan of Arc and Martin Luther ? 

Much is said in these days of the evils of a Priest- 
hood recruited from any class which is lower in the 
scale of society than that which, for want of a better 
term, is styled * gentleman.' Damien was not a 
* gentleman ' as the world understands the title, but 
he was one of that company which, including car- 
penters, fishermen, slave-girls, and harlots, ranks 
among the highest aristocracy of Heaven. 

Doubtless there is much to be said in support of 
heredity - noblesse oblige certainly counts for something, 
and can be an important aid in the building of the 
Christian character, and it is also sadly true that 
courtesy is not always the attribute of a Priest. Yet, 
looking at Damien, son of the soil and the plough, 
it seems that the crux of the whole matter lies in this ; 
that where there is a true vocation, inspired by the 


Holy Spirit of God, there is the faithful Priest, and 
there only, whether he be prince or ploughboy. 

St. John Berchmans, the young Belgian mystic, 
native of Diest, near Louvain, but a few miles from 
Tremeloo, Damien's birthplace three centuries later, 
was the son of a shoemaker. From infancy his 
vocation was unmistakable. The story of his early 
years in that quiet Flemish home is very similar to 
that of the hero of Molokai - the love of his Church, 
the gradual dawning of the knowledge that he was 
called to the religious life, the opposition this decision 
aroused, the, breaking down of all barriers. Even the 
characters of these two sons of the people, so nearly 
related in early circumstances, are very similar -the 
great devotion combined with exceeding joyousness of 
heart, the purity of outlook, the robust health, both of 
body and soul, the simplicity, the frank and high- 
spirited manner. 

In passing, it is interesting to note that two incidents 
in St. John Berchmans's life link him with Damien. 
It was on the River Dyle that the latter, while skating, 
came close to death as an abyss suddenly opened 
beneath his feet. Beside the same river the young St. 
John Berchmans, while teaching a dog to swim and 
retrieve for his master - one of the Canons of Malines 
and watching the animal's untiring obedience, took 
the lesson to heart by realising that his soul should be 
equally attentive, responsive, and eager to every call 
from God. 

Damien, when studying at Louvain, was very 
zealous in making pilgrimages to Our Lady of Mont- 
aigu, and it was here that he bade his last farewell to 
his mother and friends before setting forth for Hawaii. 


St. John Berchmans had been an equally earnest lovej 
of this shrine, to which he made devout pilgrimage 
and at one time, having given a third part of his 
pocket-money to the poor, he gave the other two- 
thirds for Masses to be said at Our Lady of Montaigi 
and also at St. Peter's, Louvain, now, alas, destroyed, 
but which must have been equally familiar to Damien, 

It has been seen that Damien's congregation, 
beginning with those who overheard his ministrations 
to their dying relations, gradually extended to increas- 
ing numbers, who gathered to hear him in the open air, 
till eventually two churches were built where the 
Sacraments were administered and other services held 

On first arriving on the island, Damien had found 2 
tiny wooden oratory dedicated to St. Philomena, the 
child martyr of Rome whose memory proved such an 
inspiration to the Cur d'Ars that he named her the 
' Princess of Heaven/ It is interesting to note that in 
his turn the saintly Cur was to prove patron and 
example to Damien. The tomb in the Catacomb oi 
St. Priscilla where little Philomena's body lay, a 
phial of its own life-blood beside it, bore the touching 
words : 

Pax Tecum^ Filumena. 
(Peace to thee, dearly beloved.) 

This little wooden oratory to her memory on 
Molokai was succeeded a little later by a hut sixteen 
feet long and ten wide built with materials supplied 
by subscriptions from the white population of Honolulu. 

With infinite pains Damien trained his choir and 


little band of servers, a task requiring endless patience 
and continual renewals, as one by one the members of 
the little group disappeared and were laid to rest in 
the ever-hungry churchyard outside. It is pathetic to 
record that, although many of these children learnt to 
sing really beautifully, yet, in consequence of the 
continual deaths and outbreaks of chest and throat 
troubles, Damien very soon lost them, so that it was 
with considerable difficulty he kept the choir going, 

He even managed to institute a band, a tremendous 
joy to that music-loving race, composed mainly of 
flutes formed from old oilcans by Damien's own nimble 
fingers, accompanied by drums, and capable of per- 
forming quite stirring melodies, even aspiring to the 
romantic heights of serenading the very few visitors 
whom Government business forced to dare Molokai's 
sinister shores. 

As regards the congregation in church, it was a great 
delight to those poor souls who, cradled in melodies, 
found their haunting folk-songs of happier days so 
difficult to sing with their poor husky throats, to hear 
the clear, musical voice of their young Priest chanting 
at the Altar, surrounded by his servers in their simple 
white cottas, with the light lingering on the vividly 
tinted walls and richly wrought golden vessels sent to 
Kalawao by the Superior of St. Roch in Paris. Paris 
and Molokai ! It was a far-oflf cry 1 But it was the 
same Eucharist, the same Blessed Presence 1 

To Damien it was not only a joy, but a privilege, to 
be allowed to lead the worship of these sorely afflicted 
ones - dying men and women, boys and girls - a 
congregation with infinite pathos and wonderful 
possibilities. And these lepers were fervent in their 


worship, fervent in spite of all their previous degra- 
dation, The Kanaka, when faithfully instructed, makes 
an excellent churchman, and the leper of all men is the 
most .ready and willing to receive the Word of Christ. 
These poor souls needed but to have their physical 
conditions made endurable and a leader whose life, 
as well as his teaching, would show the better way, and 
the majority gladly and willingly followed. 

The procession of the Blessed Sacrament was 
specially touching, with children scattering flowers on 
the way, the Sacred Host borne under its canopy, the 
mutilated bodies and poor afflicted limbs dragging and 
crawling along, sometimes on all fours, over the 
coloured blossoms in the dust of the road, joining 
with all the strength and devotion they possessed in 
the act of adoration. It was a scene which filled 
Damien's heart with mingled joy and sorrow, as, still 
healthy and vigorous himself, he bore the Blessed 
Sacrament in his hands, passing in royal triumph 
through that crowd of anguished worshippers. 

Regular and devout in their Communions, these 
poor afflicted souls endeavoured to carry out in their 
daily life the teaching they received at the Altar, trying 
to serve one another in return for the benefits they had 
received. One touching fruit of their devotion was 
the establishment in 1 8 79, only six years after Damien's 
arrival among them, of a Guild of perpetual Adoration, 
a chain of praise and intercession in expiation of their 
own sins and those of the world outside. Especially 
dear to the Sacred Heart of their Lord must have been 
this guild of such * brave poor things/ Damien says 
of them with affectionate pride, * My lepers are very 
fervent. They fill the churches from morning till 


night, and pour forth their prayers to God with an 
ardour that would make some religious blush/ 

Another fruit of this revival of religion was shown 
by increased reverence to the dead. No longer were 
they thrown into a shallow grave like some unwanted 
dog whose carcase polluted the air, but every funeral 
bell sounded the joyous release of a soul from the 
miserable earthly tabernacle, so that the chanting of 
the Burial Office became a song of triumph. Damien 
loved to tell his beads in the cemetery, meditating mean- 
while on the happiness his one-time suffering children 
were now enjoying. 

It was very seldom the father was found alone. 
Young and old alike continually surrounded him. On 
the rare occasions when he had a little leisure, he 
devoted himself to his two hobbies, the growing of a 
few flowers and the feeding of his fowls. The leper 
children loved to watch him scatter the corn, calling 
the birds with a special cry which they recognised 
immediately. Fluttering round him, with the queer 
little gurgles of delight peculiar to their kind, they 
would settle on his arms, his shoulders, even his head, 
eating from his hands. The Priest who had played 
with the lambs in his childhood and healed the widow's 
sick cow in his early boyhood was still passionately 
attached to all dumb creatures, so that his fowls were 
particularly dear to him. Yet he who shared every- 
thing with his suffering people even gave up his pets 
to feed the sick when their need was urgent. 

Those who smile indulgently over the story of St. 
Francis preaching to the birds in the woods around. 
Assisi can well picture this second St. Francis with his 
feathered friends about him, his dress old and shabby, 


his hair tumbled like a playful boy, his hands, those 
faithful hands, that had toiled unceasingly for his 
people, stained and hardened, and on his face the clear 
colour of health and wholesomeness, the soft curves of 
youth giving place to the fine, beautiful lines cut by 
the ever-ready sympathy, the infectious, ringing laugh, 
the loving, uplifting smile. His was a character which, 
while acquiring the manly virtues, possessed the 
buoyant secret of perpetual youth. 

There were few scenic attractions on the island of 
Molokai, with the exception of the great cliffs with 
their thunderous cataracts and sundered tops where 
the rainbows played amid the high-flung spray. But, 
even if the hard-worked Padre had had any time or 
energy for walking tours, the going in that boulder- 
strewn, precipitous land would have taken away all 
pleasure from the adventure. Moreover, danger 
lurked beside the great black rocks of lava- 
yawning pitfalls covered by tall, delicate grass, grow- 
ing so closely it was impossible to see the hidden 

One weird and sinister spot existed half-way be- 
tween the two leper villages - a veritable witches' en- 
campment* Situated on a low hill, the crater of an 
extinct volcano, it consisted of a perfect cup-like hole, 
130 feet wide, said to be unfathomable in depth. Its 
turgid green waters, guarded by half-skeleton trees 
and the uncanny forms of big cacti, fittingly symbol- 
ised the horrors of that island of which it might have 
been the crown. 

For six weeks from his arrival on Molokai Damien 


lived beneath his palm-tree, sleeping each night under 
its friendly branches. At the end of that time he was 
able to put together a small shelter, and eventually 
was the proud possessor of a little house, two-storied, 
with a small verandah round which he delighted to 
train a sweet-scented honeysuckle. 

Meanwhile, in sunny, smiling Honolulu many kind 
thoughts were turned towards him, and he was much 
cheered to receive a letter (signed chiefly by Protestant 
residents) accompanying a purse of money for his 
work. The sympathetic Mother of the Honolulu 
Sisters, who had charge of the hospital to which doubt- 
ful cases ^were sent on probation before being doomed 
to banishment to Molokai, was also most helpful in 
raising contributions for his charities. 

Gifts and kindnesses for his people Damien always 
welcomed with touching gratitude, but any publicity 
with regard to himself he deprecated with the humility 
of the truly great, so that he was seriously distressed, 
three years after his arrival in Molokai, to discover 
that one of his letters had been printed in the Annales. 
With much earnestness he begged that this should not 
happen again, as the effect of the letter had been that 
he had been talked about on all sides, even in America, 
and it was his express wish to be quite unknown to the 

Damien lived with the utmost simplicity, taking but 
two meals a day, at morning and evening -the first 
consisting of rice, meat, coffee, and biscuits, the second 
composed of anything left over from the morning, 
with the addition of a cup of tea and possibly eggs 
from his poultry yard. It was a monotonous diet, 
apart from its frugality, and Damien enjoyed, with the 


relish of a schoolboy sampling mother's tuck-box, the 
packet of raisins brought to the island by his English 
friend, Edward Clifford, on his one memorable visit. 

Towards the end of his ministry the colony's food- 
supply was in complete working order, each leper re- 
ceiving five pounds of fresh beef every week, together 
with milk, poi, and biscuits. In addition, a general 
shop supplied tinned fruits and similar delicacies. 

Poi, the favourite food of the Kanaka, is made from 
the root of the taro, a member of the arum family, 
which grows in rich profusion in the Hawaiian islands. 
The food is prepared by being ground, mixed with 
paste, and allowed to ferment. Europeans, finding it 
too fearful and wonderful for their liking, decide that 
it demands an acquired taste to be appreciated. 

In spite of Damien's simplicity of life and dislike of 
publicity, his light was not one that could be altogether 
hidden under a bushel, although in his lifetime he him- 
self knew little recognition of his labours, but in 1878, 
five years after his landing, he was visited by a Com- 
mittee from Honolulu, being honoured three years 
later with a visit from the reigning house of Hawaii 
in the persons of the Queen Regent and the heiress 
apparent, Princess Liliuokilani. The latter was so 
impressed with all she saw that she afterwards wrote 
long accounts of her experiences. These visits cer- 
tainly did good in improving the food-supplies to the 
island, although for some time provisions still re- 
mained scanty, and no doctor, nurse, or hospital was 
provided ; Damien's only helper in any medical at- 
tentions to his sick being a European doctor, himself 
a leper. Some time was still to elapse before their 
heroic efforts were to be supplemented by a resident 


physician and the benefit of a properly equipped 

Damien had been eight years on Molokai when 
news came from Honolulu that, by order of the King, 
the Bishop was making a formal visit to the settlement. 
It was a wild, gusty day, with the spray beating high 
upon the rocks and the seabirds screaming with weird 
notes above the tempest. But if Nature were in an 
unkind mood, the lepers determined to be festive. 
With joyful anticipation they prepared wreaths and 
garlands, those charming ropes of flowers possibly 
grown in their own little plots under Damien's super- 
vision, which they had learned to weave and love in 
that old life now gone from them for ever. 

On this day at least they wasted no time in use- 
less regrets, and all who could walk, or even crawl, 
turned out to greet their father-in-God. The band 
waited in the foreground, watching for the procession 
to make its way down the precipitous zigzag path from 
the south side of the island. This was a very much 
longer route than from Kalaupapa, but, owing to the 
tempestuous seas, it was found to be much safer for the 
Bishop's landing. 

As the figures, dwarfed by distance, appeared on 
the skyline, hoarse cheers and cries of welcome mingled 
with songs went up from the poor, afflicted throats, 
continuing all through the precipitous descent and the 
moving of the procession through the plain, the 
Bishop leading, bursting into wild delight as, reaching 
Kalawao, he stretched out his hands to Damien, hang- 
ing round his neck the glittering Cross of Knight 
Commander of the King. A deep and moving silence 
followed as he said with suitable impressiveness : " I 


am commanded by his Majesty to place upon your 
neck this testimonial of his esteem." 

It is reported that Damien tried to remove the 
handsome ornament, and only the Bishop's express 
command prevailed upon him to wear it throughout 
the day. It is typical of his character that some time 
later the decoration was discovered in his room with 
the dust thick upon its case. On being gently repri- 
manded- for valuing it so little, he answered with quick 
decisiveness : " I did not come to Molokai for this/' 

Yet, in spite of his aversion to any outward demon- 
stration of his popularity, the cheers of the lepers as 
the jewel was hung upon his breast must have been 
very dear to his heart, showing that these poor souls 
for whom he was giving his life were as happy as 
circumstances permitted. 

It is suitable here to remark that in thinking of 
Damien's heroism many noble souls work unknown 
and comparatively unrewarded amid the horrid sights 
and sounds of cancer hospitals and mental homes, and 
all honour should be accorded to their sacrifices. Yet 
these have their hours and days off duty, and the way 
of entire escape is always open, but Damien with his 
own hands, those toil-worn hands which some were 
wont to deplore, direct inheritance of the Man of 
Galilee, shut irrevocably the doors of his own sepulchre. 

His idealism was too lofty, his strength of will, 
which imposed upon the lepers a standard of conduct 
higher than his fellow-workers, too powerful for some 
of his brother officials who in course of time acted on 
the island for the Government. Men of petty minds, 
narrow in vision and in outlook, are always prepared to 
criticise those greater than themselves, seeming to see 


in their fellows the very faults which blaze forth in 
their own characters. These men, when, after Damien's 
death, Robert Louis Stevenson visited Molokai, 
condemned the departed Priest, his social methods, his 
character, even his orphanages, saying of the latter that 
they were ill-managed, overcrowded, and badly kept. 
It would be interesting to know whether, if these 
officials had landed on the. island in Damien's place 
over sixteen years before, they would have done any 
better, or whether, as is far more" likely, they would 
have rapidly taken their sensitive souls and refined 
persons as far from that living graveyard as it was 
possible to flee. 

In speaking of the character of Father Damien, the 
biographer is tempted to fall into the snare which so 
easily besets the feet of those who set out to write -the 
lives of the saints - the tendency to depict them as 
superhuman, without stain or blemish. Yet, though 
such spiritual giants, they are still mortal, and their 
very sanctity depends upon the overcoming of those 
passions .to which all men are subject. Damien would 
have been the first to declare himself, in company with 
St. Paul, the chief of sinners. But it is those very 
faults who among us can bear to point the finger of 
scorn and call them sins? which make him so human, 
so lovable. Here was no solitary mystic, cold and aus- 
tere, dwelling apart from humanity and its needs, but a 
man, like unto other men, warm-hearted and passionate. 

Some found his manner brusque, with the curt, 
matter-of-fact dealing of the peasant ; others even 
named him ignorant, as the world accounts knowledge, 
in spite of his studies in the University of Lpuvain ; 
but, however this may have been, his was the wisdom 


of the childlike heart, the sublime faith which removes 
mountains of sin and error. The student of sociology 
may decry his methods, but in reviewing the work he 
accomplished on Molokai in the ten years he laboured 
single-handed and the six years which followed, even 
the most critical cannot fail to be impressed by its 
amazing extent. And added to his own personal 
achievements, his power of organisation, and his 
religious enthusiasm were the added gifts of the 
strength for heavy toil and the power of compelling 
others to do their share. Those years on the grey 
shores of Molokai fully justified his earlier name of 
* Damien the Intrepid.' It must also be borne in 
mind that for the greater part of his ministry he worked 
alone. True, as he says himself, he * had his Lord 
always with him,' but his spirit, with its human limit- 
ations, must have often longed for the companionship 
of a brother Priest in whom to confide and from whom 
to receive counsel and advice, together with the 
Absolution for which he longed, and which under 
existing circumstances was so difficult to obtain. 

As time went on it became almost too great a strain 
even for his abundant energy and magnificent physique 
to travel each Sunday to and fro over the rough plain 
between the settlements in order to conduct the services 
in both churches morning and evening, in addition 
to catechising the children and the daily ministrations 
to the sick and dying. It came as a welcome relief 
when in 1878 Father Andr arrived upon the island to 
assist him at Kalaupapa. There is no record how long 
he stayed, but Damien was again working quite alone 
in the spring 'of 1881. 

Another Priest, Father Montiton, made his appearance 


in 1882. During the last years of Damien's life 
his labours were cheered by a full staff, all zealous, 
heroic, and devoted -two priests. Father Conradi 
and Father Wendolin ; two lay workers, Brother 
James, a tall, powerfully built Irishman who was to 
prove the sick Padre's devoted nurse, and Brother 
Joseph, an American ; and three Franciscan Sisters, 
the Superior being Mother Marianne, a woman of 
great charm and ability, whose love of art and beauty 
must have been offended on that island of horror every 
passing hour. Brother Joseph, the American, had an 
interesting history. An ex-army officer, he had been 
converted to the Roman Catholic Faith, and, in 
gratitude for the spiritual solace he received, had 
devoted his life to the service of lepers. A fitting 
personality later to stand beside the deathbed of the 
dying Priest of Molokai 1 

All three of the Fathers were on affectionate, even 
playful, terms with their people, bearing with them the 
atmosphere of joyousness and laughter so typical of 
Damien's ministry. There was also the sorely needed 
resident doctor, besides one other missionary, a 
Protestant native whose wife was a leper. 

Damien, ever zealous for the Faith, serving his 
Church with unquestioning loyalty and obedience, 
naturally sought diligently to bring his flock into that 
Fold of which he was so devoted a shepherd, but, 
though often successful, he always showed true charity 
when dealing with those whose views he considered 
erroneous, another proof of the large-heartedness of his 
nature. He was father to them all, irrespective of age 
or rank, of sex or Creed. 


Dr. S. R. Gardiner, the historian, wrote of St. 
Francis of Assisi that it was not so much his humility 
which distinguished him, but that * not only all human 
beings but all created things were dear to him,' The 
same might be said of Damien, and it has been seen 
that even St. Francis's love of the birds has its counter- 
part in the story of the Padre of Molokai St. Francis 
as art loves to portray him, with birds clustering at his 
feet, resting on his hands and shoulders, hovering 
over his head ; Damien with his pet chickens hurry- 
ing at his call, alighting on his person, clucking glee- 
fully around him. St. Francis taming the fierce 
wolf, and gathering all th$ little furry inmates of the 
forest around him, has his echo in the * Little Shep- 
herd ' who in his boyhood spent a whole night alone 
in the cattle-shed tending a neighbour's ailing cow. 

The joyousness of the Franciscan Gospel has its 
natural complement in Damien's constant gaiety a 
spontaneous happiness which is so lacking in many 
Christian souls, whose gloom repels men from their 
Faith, instead of acting as a magnet to draw the inmates 
of this world into the Kingdom of God. The attitude 
of a * miserable sinner * so * enjoyed ' by many 'a truly 
devout person would not have saved the Middle Ages 
from disaster, arty more than it would have brought 
one leper on Molokai to repentance. 

Among other gifts which the refined Francis 
Bernardone shared with the bourgeois Joseph de 
Veuster was that of song. Accounts of the rich young 
voice of Francis, rivalling the song of the birds in the 
olive-clad hillsides of Assisi, the chanting of Damien 
as he led his people in worship on the wind-swept isle 
of the Pacific create the wish that a record might have 


been kept of the sounds, as is possible in these days of 
scientific wonders, that this generation might have 
heard the veritable voices of the saints. Yet perhaps 
it is as well this is not possible, The voices to this 
generation might even prove disappointing, for there 
are fashions in music as in everything else, and it 
would have been a sad story indeed if these had proved 
as unsatisfactory as the portraits of many popular 
authors, It is fitting that a certain mystery should 
surround the personalities of the saints. 



TWELVE years had passed since Father Damien first 
set foot on the desolate shores of Molokai, that 
living graveyard where the wailing cries of 
the seabirds formed the melancholy orchestra, ere 
the curtain was lifted from that island of mystery, and 
the young Priest's heroic eyes beheld the leper colony 
in all its mournful corruption, its awful destitution. 

They had been twelve wonderful years, months and 
days in which that desolate land had literally been made 
to blossom like the rose and the hearts of men and 
women, to whom formerly God and humanity alike 
had seemed to turn a deaf ear, now rested in compar- 
ative happiness, secure in the knowledge that love and 
tenderness would be theirs while life should last, and 
that beyond the grave and gate of death there awaited 
the certainty of a joyful resurrection. 

Often as Father Damien stood on the verandah of his 
tiny house, where the sweet-scented honeysuckle hung 
around him in a lovely frame of leaf and blossom, he 
must have wondered deep in his soul how long his 
work would continue before he too would be laid to 
rest in the little graveyard beneath the palm-tree, 
which had been his only shelter during his first six 
weeks on that island of misery. 

Five years is the usual limit of time in which the 
dreaded scpurge of leprosy shows itself, and the fact 



that Father Damien had gone unscathed for twelve 
years of constant ministrations both to the souls and 
bodies of these stricken people, in closest contact with 
every foul and revolting aspect of the disease, led many 
to believe he would escape altogether. But it was not 
to be so, for God had called this His faithful servant to 
the supremest point of sacrifice, the giving up even of 
life itself Joseph Damien was destined to wear the 
martyr's crown. In the year 1884 he suspected that 
the disease had begun its dread work in him, but the 
doctor, perhaps bearing the general belief that he 
would escape, or, even more likely, blinded by his 
love for him, refused to believe it. 

The following year the thing was a certainty. Re- 
turning from one of his rare visits to his old parish in 
Hawaii, he felt ill and tired, sensations which to his 
healthy body and superb constitution were practically 

Lovely, laughing Hawaii, flower-strewn, sweet- 
scented land, set like a jewel of Heaven in its sapphire 
seas t It was the last time that Damien's eyes would 
ever kindle .at its beauty or his soul rejoice in its light 
and colour. Sic transit gloria mundi. 

On reaching Molokai, while preparing a bath, 
thinking to ease his weariness, the boiling water ran 
suddenly over his' foot. The Priest sprang back, then 
stood staring at his naked limb, a quick throb of horror 
at his heart he could not feel the slightest pain from 
the scalding liquid 1 Too well he knew what it meant 
he was a leper, doomed to certain death. He had 
entered the long Way of Sorrows, and from hence- 
forth would bear his cross, following his Crucified 
Lord to the Hill of Calvary. 


The doctor's voice trembled with emotion as, a few 
hours later, he was forced to give the verdict : " I 
cannot bear to tell you, but what you say is true." 

The Priest's answer came calm and serene : " It is 
no shock to me, for I have long felt sure of it." 

To some minds the fact that as a reward for all his 
heroism and self-sacrifice Damien fell a victim to 
leprosy, and that he who meant so much to his afflicted 
flock was allowed to contract their foul disease, suffer- 
ing through four long and agonising years, raises the 
whole problem of pain and disease. It is the old 
poignant cry, echoing through the centuries : " Why, 
oh, why, should this man suffer ? " 

Surely one explanation is that Damien might be an 
even more efficient example of the suffering Christ, 
that in his own body he could point to the wounds of 
the Cross, teaching his fellow-sufferers to unite their 
pain with the supreme sacrifice of Calvary, showing 
that the highest earthly privilege, and one which the 
world least understands, is that of being conformed 
into the Passion of Christ, in sharing with Him in that 
mystery that the human mind cannot yet comprehend 
- the wonder of the world's redemption, won through 
supreme and awful sacrifice. 

Christianity, the one true and final revelation of God, 
is the only religion in which the Deity suffers. In other 
faiths, the gods are said to have come to earth in the 
likeness of men even the babe on his mother's knee 
is not unknown in heathen worship. Sometimes these 
gods have been claimed to appear for the good of 
humanity, more often for its ill, or the mere gratification 


of their very human passions. Nowhere is there 
to be found the nakedness, the shame, the self-abnega- 
tion of a Cross. The gods when on earth move more 
in the select atmospheres of Courts and the opulence 
of Wall Street. Not one of them is known as the Man 
of Sorrows and acquainted with grief ; a Via Dolorosa 
is entirely unfamiliar. Again and again the educated 
Indian urges that it is impossible for Christ to 
have been the Son of God, as He did not save Him- 

' Our Krishna/ writes one Hindu student, * is 
greater than your Christ, for he killed his enemies, 
whilst Christ was killed by His.* 

It is for Christ, and Christ alone, to show His fol- 
lowers that only by the Cross and Passion is it possible 
to attain unto the glory of the Resurrection. 

Ignatius, that grand old saint of over four score 
years, as he was dragged on his way from Antioch to 
the Colosseum, there to be thrown to the lions to make 
a spectacle for the glutted eyes of Rome, cried aloud 
with joyous voice : " Now at last I begin to be a dis- 
ciple ! " 

This is the key to the mysterious words of St. 
Paul : 

* Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and 
fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of 
Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the 

It is the glorious promise that all pain, if united to 
the sacrifice of Calvary, has its part in the redemption 
of mankind. 


With regard to Damien's suffering, it may further 
be said that it was for the good of posterity. His death, 
far more than even his life, caused a world-wide in- 
terest in the curse of leprosy ; it was a beginning of 
that wonderful ministry to these outcast and afflicted 
ones which is such an important part of medical mis- 
sion work to-day. The power of Joseph Damien is 
greater in death than in life, a proof that pain and 
suffering must be viewed, not by our little knowledge 
of finite things, but in the broad expanse of God's 
immortality and His eternal purpose. A surgical 
operation in one of our great London hospitals, viewed 
by the eyes of a raw African native, would appear 
barbarous in the extreme, but to our more enlightened 
intelligence it is a necessary and merciful stage in the 
process of healing disease, and often the only means of 
saving a precious life. So perhaps all pain, which seen 
by us appears so horrible and uncalled for, when viewed 
in the perspective of God's infinite love and purpose is 
a necessary, merciful stage in man's regeneration. 

And of Damien, stricken, suffering Damien, it is 
written in the Book of Life : ' Well done, thou good 
and faithful servant . . . thy name liveth for .ever- 

Never in all his devoted life did the beauty of 
Damien's character shine forth more radiantly than 
during the years of anguish that fpllowed. He spoke 
no longer of ' my brethren,' but ' we lepers,' now 
nearer and dearer even than before, seeing they had 
been bought with such a price, and that constantly he 
perceived in them the picture of his suffering Lord. 


His appeal to them must have had an added force of 
intense pathos each time he numbered himself among 
them, yet with splendid courage he declared that, if the 
price of a cure meant leaving the island and his work, 
he preferred to remain among his people - ' Almighty 
God knows what is best for my sanctification, and with 
that conviction I say daily a good " Thy will be 
done." . . . People pity me and think me unfortunate, 
but I think myself the happiest of missionaries/ 

The sad news could not be concealed, so that, as 
his suffering people saw his beloved face with its con- 
tinual humorous, tender smile, they knew they must 
watch his gradual decline and death. Yet, though 
with St. Paul, the greatest of all missionaries, he was 
able to say, " I die daily/ 'he never lost his sunny cheer- 
fulness, nor did he cease his works of mercy. 

With heroic surrender he summed up the purpose 
for which he believed he had been called upon to suffer : 
' . . . The sacrifice of my health, which our good God 
has deigned to accept that He may render my ministry 
among the lepers more fruitful, appears after all very 
insignificant and even pleasant for me who dares to 
say with St. Paul : " I am dead, and my life is hidden 
with Christ in God." ' 

It was natural that his bodily strength should fail, 
and he whose activity had been so wonderful now had 
to choose what was in his power to do and leave the 
rest, one of the hardest tasks that can be imposed on 
an active mind and body. A new church was in course 
of erection, and he toiled bravely among the other 
lepers, as pathetically and nobly as any there, but the 
loving eyes which watched him saw the once splendid 
limbs failing, the dear, bright face changing. 


During the early stages of the disease he found some 
relief from the Japanese treatment and baths which 
by that time were being utilised for the public good in 
the excellent bathrooms now provided by Govern- 
ment, but it was powerless to check the general in- 
sidious progress of the malady. Just at this time the 
Hawaiian authorities commissioned him to build a 
large hospital for seven hundred lepers to be treated 
entirely under his direction. For the last time he was 
to be architect, Priest, and doctor. 

Two Priests had lately come to aid him. One, 
Father Conradi, lived on the ground floor of Damien's 
own little house, he himself taking the upper floor, 
and, as an added precaution, having his meals in a 
separate room. There was no fear that the sick Priest 
would injure his people, for he, like his Lord, knew 
in his own body the fellowship of their sufferings, so 
that he mixed in their daily life as fearlessly as ever. 

Towards the end of 1886 he was much cheered by 
a message of help and goodwill from Engknd, to- 
gether with a cheque for nearly ^1,000, sent by the 
Rev. H. H. Chapman* Vicar of St. Luke's, Camber- 
well, London, contributed by people of various Creeds, 
a large amount being given by the very poor. The 
analogy may seem a little fanciful, but it is neverthe- 
less of passing interest to note that this gift came from 
a parish dedicated to St. Luke, the ' beloved physi- 
cian/ whose tender, generous heart would have been 
so intensely moved with compassion for Damien and 
his work. In the present generation St. Luke's, Cam- 
berwell, is noteworthy for its work in the cause of the 


unity of Christendom, particularly in connection with 
the Orthodox Church of the East. 

Damien, though a loyal and faithful son of Rome, 
did not feel that the gifts bought by the money sent 
by the Rev. H. H. Chapman should be enjoyed only 
by members of his own Church, so that, although at 
first intending to lay it out for the benefit of those of 
his own Faith, after talking the matter over he revised 
his list, distributing the good things equally among 
all^ those on the island, independent of their beliefs. 
It is characteristic of Damien that he sat long into the 
night listening with ' perfect good nature and perfect 
obstinacy' to his colleague's arguments that the gifts 
should not be distributed among Roman Catholics 
only, ending the interview by honestly declaring him- 
self to have been in the wrong, saying openly : " Yes ! 
I am very much obliged to you ; you have done me a 
service ; it would have been a theft." 

He wrote in return to the Vicar of St. Luke's with 
deep and touching gratitude, saying that doubtless the 
majority of the poor sufferers would express their 
thanks to their kind and unknown friends, besides 
remembering them in their prayers. The warm- 
heartedness of Damien's nature is shown in the sig- 
nature : ' I remain for ever your affectionate friend in 
our Divine Lord.' 

His friend Edward Clifford later remarks on the 
scrupulous and business-like manner in which he kept 
his accounts - an example which many saintly Priests 
might well bear in mind with profit both to themselves 
and their churchwardens. He was particularly anxious 
that his English friend should see how he kept his 
books, and note that the present which had been sent 


him had been dispensed among Roman Catholics and 
others with equal impartiality. 

That same year, 1886, in far-off Belgium, as his 
mother lay upon her deathbed, the newspapers 
announced that her heroic son had developed leprosy, 
unfortunately horribly exaggerating his condition. 
But Madame de Veuster did not falter, only saying 
bravely : " Well, well, we shall go to Heaven to- 

We can imagine that, as the end drew near, she must 
have often remembered that other Mother, Blessed 
Mary, standing beneath the Cross, watching her 
beloved Son rendering up His life with joyful and 
willing surrender for sad and suffering humanity. 
Truly the sword must have pierced her own soul also 
as from her sick-bed she pictured her boy, whom she 
had last seen in the full vigour of his young manhood, 
his face now marred and disfigured with disease, his 
splendid limbs decayed and failing. Perhaps it was 
with this thought in her mind that she turned to the 
picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her bedroom and 
inclined her head, then, looking at the portrait of her 
son, gave him the same graceful salutation, before she 
gradually slipped down into the bed and peacefully 
passed away, in the eighty-fourth year of her age. 

The news of her death must have been a sad blow 
to Damien, for, although separated from his home both 
by long years and many weary miles of land and sea, 
his intensely loving heart always kept alive its interest 
and affection for his dear ones. It had been a great 
grief when his father, Franois de Veuster, that man 


of sterling worth and solid piety, passed away in 1873, 
shortly after his arrival on Molokai. Little homely 
touches in his letters both to Tremeloo and to Louvain 
$how how strong were the links of love and interest 
which still held him fast across that great ocean of 
waters and the dreary length of years. 

An example of the thoughtfulness of this loving 
son, the nearness with which his heart and imagination 
followed the lives of those still so dear to him, is 
exemplified by the remark in one of his letters in which 
he expressed a wonder as to whether his mother had 
yet had to take to a stick to walk to church. It was 
with an intense joy, not unmixed with tears, that his 
family from time to time received his letters. The 
following, written in March 1865, two years after he 
left home, when he was toiling in his huge Hawaiian 
parish, is a particularly delightful example : 

' In the midst of the waters of the Pacific Ocean, on 
this island, you have a son who loves you and a Priest 
who daily prays for you. I am in the habit of paying 
you daily a short visit in spirit.' 

Few in this luxury-loving age can appreciate the full 
sacrifice of this heroic missionary, to whom the least 
of his many burdens must have been the life-long 
separation from those, he most dearly loved. On 
hearing of his illness, his brother, Father Pamphile, 
had wished to join him, but the ecclesiastical authorities 
thought it wiser for him not to come, so that in this 
life the two were never again united. 

The Christmas of 1888, four months before he was 
to die, brought Damien a great happiness. Mr. 


Edward Clifford, an English artist, came to the island, 
bringing fresh tokens of sympathy, and many expres- 
sions of grief for his illness. 

The journey from Hawaii to Molokai in fair weather 
is full of interest - the intense blue of the Pacific, with 
the rising and setting sun, form a glory of colour 
straight from the creative hands of God. In daylight, 
dark albatrosses, black as night and ever on the wing, 
hover over the glittering waves ; regiments of the 
fairy-like nautilus, like tiny blue dishes with transparent 
sails, rock delicately on the face of the waters, and on 
the approach of land the gulls scream their welcome 
like some wild witches' orchestra. Mr. Clifford 
reached Molokai in a terrible storm, when the towering 
cliffs, the little whitewashed houses, the two churches, 
the silvery cataracts leaping down the precipices, were 
lost in showers of spray. Through the wildness of 
wind and water the artist saw a figure wearing a broad 
straw hat painfully making his way along the beach to 
greet the newcomers, and great was his pleasure when, 
as with difficulty he was landed on that treacherous 
shore, Damien welcomed him in his own tongue, 
explaining that English was now the language which 
seemed to him the most natural. 

As they climbed the hill from the landing-stage the 
Padre pointed out the chicken farm on the left, and 
immediately on arrival at Kalawao he took his visitor 
to the half-finished church, the joy and pride of his 
heart. The small building, mainly the work of 
Damien' s own hands, in use hitherto, had been incor- 
porated as a transept. Close by in the graveyard out- 
side was the tree under which Damien had spent his 
early nights on the island, destined to be his last 


resting-place, as it had been his first. Not far off was 
an orange-tree, with the golden fruit gleaming amid 
the glossy leaves. 

The missionary's own four-roomed house almost 
joined the church. Here they were met by Father 
Conradi, who lived on the ground floor of the little 
establishment. In the tiny refectory they were joined 
by Brother James, Damien taking his meal at a 
separate table. After dinner the guest was taken up a 
little flight of steps to see the father's own apartments 
-a little balcony, beautiful with blossoming honey- 
suckle, a business-like sitting-room completed by a 
large map of the world, with another door leading into 
the bedroom. 

Some of Edward Clifford's happiest hours on the 
island were spent on the sweet-scented balcony with his 
sketching materials, listening to Damien's experiences. 
Often an admiring audience of lepers came around 
them, their faces, in spite of sad disfigurement, bright 
and happy, and there were generally little ones playing 
in the garden below, their voices and childish laughter 
ringing out on the air. 

A guest-house had been built for the accommodation 
of visiting physicians and those few friends brave 
enough to face the horrors of the island, that they might 
be safe from touching furniture or utensils in common 
use. Isolated by its garden from all possible contamin- 
ation, it consisted of a whitewashed wooden cottage, its 
pleasant verandah wreathed with climbing roses. Of 
those who received hospitality within its walls it would 
be difficult to find a more sympathetic guest than the 
English artist, Edward Clifford. At the time of his 
visit the house contained another guest, Mr. Alexander 


Sproull, under whose skilled hands the Government work 
of perfecting the water-supply was being carried out. 

There were few birds except the gulls, with their 
greedy eyes and unhallowed screaming, on Molokai's 
precipitous shore, but by the time of Mr. Clifford's 
visit a small number of foreigners had been imported, 
including an own brother to the Londoner's constant 
friend, the impudent, jolly little sparrow. Sometimes 
the honey-bird, with its curved beak and plumage like 
scarlet velvet, was seen to hover above the tropical 
ferns and coarse wild ginger, and there were also a big 
yellow daylight owl, a lovely golden plover, and a 
snow-white creature with a long tail. 

Mr. Clifford, in recounting his experiences, gives a 
proof of the wild weather which often prevailed for 
days together, even though the skies were studded with 
stars or brilliant with sunshine - heavy gusts of wind, 
warm, yet so violent that one evening the roof of the 
guest-house was partly torn off, causing the wet to 
enter in twelve different places. The dreaded cona, 
the south wind, which had wrecked the miserable 
leper huts soon after Damien's first arrival, rushing 
through the gorges to the plain below, tore the climb- 
ing roses into bruised, pathetic shreds, beating down 
the rain so that it fell like heavy drops of gravel. 

There were also many lovely days on the island, 
balmy and delicious, though too often succeeded by 
heat and stillness so oppressive that everyon$ became 
' as limp as a wet collar,' a state of affairs that mis- 
sionaries and settlers know so well a land where it is 
always afternoon, and the weary nerves are tried to the 


It was a gay, bright Christinas, in spite of the deep 
shadow of death and suffering which of necessity always 
rested over the leper colony, with the added knowledge 
that, although his cheerfulness was as great as ever of 
yore, their beloved Priest's vigour had gone, never to 

Edward Clifford had brought many gifts from 
England - beautiful pictures, including an engraving 
of the ' Good Shepherd,* so appropriate to him whose 
childhood's name of ' Le Petit Berger * - the * Little 
Shepherd * had been so amazingly fulfilled ; a 
magic lantern with many slides ; some fine silver, and 
a wonderful musical instrument turned by a handle. 
Within half an hour Damien was surrounded by his 
boys, teaching them the way to play its forty tunes, 
the biggest boy among them all. 

Like the celebrated lady of Banbury Cross, with 
rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, the Hawaiian 
native also likes to have music wherever he goes. Two 
or three Kanakas meet together, and sooner or later 
will be heard a chant, half nasal, half guttural, re- 
lieved by the boom of a shaken calabash, the romantic 
tinkle of a guitar, or the soft notes of a lute. Drums, 
gourds, bamboo flutes, all are pressed into service, 
mingling with the everlasting song of the Pacific as it 
thunders upon the coral reef, or dashes its fury against 
some precipitous shore. 

The sea had been so rough when Edward Clifford's 
boat approached the land that it was feared it would 
be impossible to land the big wooden case in which the 
precious gifts from England were packed, and it was 
on the point of being taken back to the steamer when 
Clifford, seeing the bitter disappointment of 


pathetic watchers on the shore, decided to have it 
forced open in the boat and the contents handed out. 
Great was the rejoicing as the treasures were passed 
one by one over the heads of the hungry, vicious 
waves, safe to shore. 

The excitement of the visit reached its climax on 
Christmas night, when the lepers presented a select 
entertainment entitled BeMazzar's Feast. To English 
eyes it would have seemed dreary in the extreme, but 
to these poor folk it possessed all the thrills of Drury 
Lane or the Com&lie Frangaise. It was a truly won- 
derful programme, although the stage was very dark 
and no one seemed to know exactly who was meant to 
be Daniel. Belshazzar, with his face hidden comfort- 
ably in his arms on a table, appeared to be indulging 
in something more reposeful than even the proverbial 
forty winks. A little boy took the part of the queen- 
mother, and every leper in the place had a part, if it 
were nothing more than walking on and off the stage, 
and everyone was immensely happy and excited. After 
all, what more could be required from a theatrical 
performance ? 

The services on Christmas morning were conducted 
in Kanaka (a language not understood by Edward 
Clifford), English being used by educated Hawaiians 
only. Damien pressed his visitor to help in the choir, 
and was much delighted when he joined with the boys 
in the singing of * Adeste Fideles ' (' O come, all ye 
faithful '), that loveliest of all the Nativity hymns, 
which would retain the full wealth of its devotional 
beauty if local bands and profiteering carol singers 


would kindly omit it from their repertoires, leaving it 
to be sung only before the Altar at the Christmas 
Eucharist, to which it so nobly belongs. 

Damien had gathered together quite a good choir 
of youthful singers, considering how often leprosy at- 
tacked the throats of his people, causing the voices to 
become husky and harsh. One man still possessed 
quite a full sweet baritone, and a refined-looking 
woman, who had formerly been a well-known musician 
in Honolulu, played the harmonium, despite the fact 
that her poor, disfigured hands looked quite dis- 

On Sunday morning Damien celebrated his own 
Mass, followed by a general service at which about 
eighty lepers were present. The magic lantern which 
Mr. Clifford had brought, with its many beautiful 
slides of the Life of Our Lord, proved a great joy in the 
evening, the artist himself acting as operator, the while 
Damien explained the pictures. It was a moving and 
pathetic sight to see that congregation, of which every 
member was doomed to an early and painful death, 
hearing from the lips of their dying Priest the blessed 
story of the Cross and Passion. 

Molokai Ahina was a very different place at the time 
of Edward Clifford's visit from the day when Damien 
the Deliverer first stepped upon its desolate shore. It 
is true that the amalgamation of suffering in its most 
loathsome form, the repulsiveness of the living cor- 
ruption from which its victims could not escape, the 
sickening odour which is the natural accompaniment 
of such a disease, were still there in all their horror. 
Not all the love and skill in the world could obliterate 
these, but the faces of the sufferers had changed from 


the likeness of beasts into the joyous liberty of the sons 
of God. Yes, even joyous ! 

In the daytime the villagers could be seen chatting 
at their cottage doors, those whose affliction had not 
affected the fingers busily engaged in weaving mats or 
baskets, or pounding the taro root in preparation for 
the native poi, welcoming all passers-by with a cour- 
teous greeting and ready smile, their faces, with few 
exceptions, quite happy. Men and women, both 
riding astride, galloped freely across the plain between 
the two villages on game little ponies, showing that 
all parts .of the settlement were in touch with one 

So much for individual improvements ; the com- 
munity life had also been raised beyond recognition - 
the awful charnel-house, bare of everything but its 
burden of human misery, had been replaced by a hos- 
pital, complete with a resident doctor and nurses, the 
faithful Franciscan Sisters, flowers, music, and all 
necessary comforts ; neat and convenient cottages, 
raised on trestles to avoid contact with the damp earth, 
so injurious to sufferers from leprosy, replaced the 
miserable grass huts of earlier years ; services were 
held in two well-built churches, instead of the open 
air ; an efficient water-supply provided means for all 
the demands of hygiene. There had been eight 
hundred lepers on the island at the time of Damien's 
first arrival ; Mr. Clifford found 1,030 ; of these, 
nearly half were Roman Catholics, but Damien was the 
beloved father of them all. 

Apart from the great alleviation of suffering which 
all these improvements, with the addition of warm 
clothing and sufficient food, had brought about, the 


enjoyment of these everyday requirements of civilisa- 
tion, together with proper medical attention and re- 
quisites, had actually caused the disease to take a 
slightly milder form. The average length of life on 
Molokai was about four years, when, some vital organ 
being attacked, the sufferer slowly collapsed and died. 

The days after Christmas were full of added pain 
and weariness for the sick Priest. Edward Clifford 
had brought with him some of the newly discovered 
gurjum oil To please this kind English friend, 
Damien tried its effects, finding certainly a little relief, 
but the dread disease had gone too far for any hope of 
a cure. At the same time, after a fortnight's treatment 
the good effects were evident to all, the face looked 
greatly better ; sleep was very good indeed, instead 
of being very bad, as he was only able to sleep with 
the mouth open ; his hands improved, and he was 
even able to sing Orisons for the first time for months. 

It is a picture, pathetic, yet full of beauty, which 
Mr. Clifford shows of the dying Priest seated upon the 
steps of the guest-house, within which, for fear of 
infection, he refused to set his feet, the great southern 
stars shining like a halo round his head, the golden 
moonlight flooding the valley's beneath him in a radi- 
ance of subdued glory. The soft light hid the suffer- 
ing on the Priest's tired face - the swollen, ridged fore- 
head, the lost eyebrows, the sunken nose, showing 
only the well-curved mouth with its tender, humorous 
smile, the deep, kind eyes, the dark, curling hair. 

There were long friendly talks beneath that tropical 
moon, full of mutual understanding, Edward Clifford 


being intensely interested in the Priest's tales of his 
people and his early days ; Damien, whose once beau- 
tiful voice had been such an asset to his' work, being 
equally delighted to listen to the English hymns, ask- 
ing again and again for special favourites, particularly 
those so appropriate to himself ' Brief life is here 
our portion/ and ' Art thou weary ? Art thou lan- 
guid ? ' together with the mission hymn, * Safe home 
in port/ 

The Church of Rome, with all her rich store of devo- 
tion, uses few hymns in her worship, a loss which is 
only realised by simple souls like Damien. His friend 
Edward speaks with special emphasis of the beautiful 
expression on the suffering missionary's face as he 
repeated the hymns for his benefit and on Christmas 
Day the artist presented him with a copy of Faber's 
hymns which had been sent by Lady Grosvenor's three 
little ones. Damien, such a devoted lover of children, 
read the laboriously written words on the title-page, 
' Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,' 
picturing the small heads bent over the writing, the 
chubby hands toiling so carefully over each of the 
round, characters. It was with a very sweet smile that 
he remarked, he would read and value the book. 

The circumstances of the father's own labours 
caused him to take a special interest in the work of the 
Church Army in its ministry to the down-and-outs of 
society, and he never tired of listening to Mr. Clifford's 
descriptions of its activities. 

He also asked many affectionate questions about the 
Rev. H. H. Chapman, the Camberwell Vicar who had 
shown such warm and practical friendship by the gift of 
nearly ,1,000 for his poor. He was much interested 


in hearing the names of all friends who had sent 
presents by Mr. Clifford's hands, being greatly touched 
and most happily surprised that English people, and 
those not even members of his own Creed, should 
show such love for him. Like many invalids, Damien 
much enjoyed looking at pictures, not only in books, 
but loose ones that, having no weight, could easily be 
turned over by his frail, tired fingers. A special 
favourite was a print of the * Praying Hands * by 
Albrecht Purer. 

Sometimes, when Damien was able to find time 
from his work, the intimate talks with his artist friend 
took place by day, perhaps down by the shore as the 
foam rose from the bases of the black lava rocks in 
swirling mists, and snowy long-tailed birds wheeled 
above the heights where the sun cast deep shafts of 
golden light through the sundered cliffs. A few of the 
things they said have been recorded. One day Edward 
Clifford asked if Damien would care to send a message 
to Cardinal Manning. The reply was typical of his 
host's great humility, that beautiful priestly attribute : 
" It is not for such an one as I to send a message to 
such a dignitary as he." Hesitating for a moment, he 
added quietly : " I send him my humble respects and 

Mr. Clifford relates that weeks later, when he deliv- 
ered the message, the Cardinal smiled in answer, 
saying gently : " I had rather he had sent me his 

On another occasion Damien was reading a letter 
from Miss Mary Stuart, a sympathetic English lady : 

' You have given up all earthly things to serve God 
and help others, and I believe you must now have 


that joy that nothing can take from you, and a great 
reward hereafter/ 

The Priest looked up from the written page, smil- 
ing brightly : " Tell her that I do have that joy now." 

His friend Edward relates, in writing the memoirs 
of his visit, that never had he met a man more endowed 
with the virtue of humility. The Bishop of Peter- 
borough (the Right Rev. C. Magee) had sent a 
message : " He won't accept the blessing of a heretic 
Bishop, but tell him that he has my prayers and ask 
him to give me his.'* 

Damien smiled modestly and deprecatingly. " Does 
he call himself a heretic Bishop ? " he asked doubt- 

Mr. Clifford explained that probably his Lordship 
had only used the term playfully. 

One evening towards the end of his visit the artist 
showed him a sketch he had made while they had been 

Damien examined it with keen interest mirrors 
were a luxury in Molokai. He spoke with unconscious 
pathos : " What an ugly face ! I did not know the 
disease had made such progress." 

Mr. Clifford offered to give a copy of the portrait 
to Father Pamphile, but Damien feared that his 
devoted brother might be pained to see the, disfigure- 
ment that had taken place. There was little his friend 
could say in reply. Perhaps his mind went to the 
picture of St. Francis of Assisi which Burne- Jones had 
painted with his own hand and sent as a gift to the 
heroic missionary - St. Francis with the sacred, mys- 
terious Stigmata in hands and feet and side, the verit- 
able wounds of the Passion of his Lord, the possession 


of which neither doctor nor scientist has ever been 
able to explain. Surely the marks" of the leprosy in 
Father Damien's noble face and splendid body were 
another Stigmata, the showing forth to this modern 
world the symbols of the wounds of Christ ! 

A portrait of Damien taken after he was stricken by 
the disease being shown in a London photographer's 
window, the passers-by shrank from the repulsiveness 
of the sight, but no sooner was it known that it was a 
picture of the heroic Priest than all drew near to admire, 
and the shop was thronged with the thousands desiring 
to possess a copy. In Birmingham, where a similar 
photograph was exhibited, the police had to be called 
to regulate the crowds, so that the ordinary circulation 
of the traffic might be re-established. 

The life and work of Damien made a special appeal 
to Englishmen, with their deeply rooted love of 
adventure and admiration of everything that constitutes 
heroism. Here was no half-legendary figure lost in 
the misty avenues of centuries, encrusted with doings 
of more or less veracity, but a saint of their own 
generation, with like passions, impulses, and, to a 
certain degree, circumstances to their own. Moire- 
over, Damien was a practical saint, no mystic dwelling 
in a world apart from others, merely cultivating his own 
soul, but a man whose spirituality was the channel 
through which flowed works easy to be understood 
and appreciated by the matter-of-fact mind of an 
ordinary man. 

A slight glimpse of the nearness of this faithful 
disciple to his Lord is shown by Edward Clifford, who 
tells that, while he was bathing, Damien would sit 
upon the shore reading and praying, retiring at once 


into that hidden life which was so real to him. It is 
only a very great saint, joyous, yet devout as he, who 
can turn immediately from the distractions of this 
present world to complete absorption in the world of 

On the last day of the old year, 1888, Edward 
Clifford's visit terminated with the arrival by steamer 
of a batch of two hundred friends of the lepers, coming 
to spend a few hours on the island, a treat generously 
provided by Mr. Samuel Damon of Honolulu. Un- 
fortunately, on this occasion the sea was in one of its 
unkind moods, the great breakers being so formidable 
that only the men were allowed to land, the women 
being taken close enough to shore in the boats to be 
able to see and converse with their dear ones. One 
girl, in her ardent love for one of the sufferers, defied 
all rules and boldly leapt on land. The scenes of 
meeting and parting were affecting in the extreme, 
accompanied with the terrible native wailing floating 
across the waves like a funeral dirge. Yet even this, 
poignant though it seemed, was better than the entire 
separation which the lepers and their dear ones had 
previously been forced to endure. 

Damien, who, as a monk, had stripped himself of 
earthly possessions, had little to offer his visitor in his 
memory but those most priceless gifts of friendship 
his prayers and his loving gratitude. One tiny gift 
was all he could offer him - a little card of pressed 
flowers from Jerusalem, on which he wrote ; * To 
Edward Clifford from his leprous friend, Joseph 
Damien/ He inscribed in his friend's Bible the 


touching words : * I was sick and ye visited me/ 
From one so devoid of sentimentality as Damien these 
little tokens were precious indeed. 

The final scene as the artist stood on the steamer's 

deck, surrounded by that sorrowful, wailing crowd 

whose handkerchiefs fluttered in the evening breeze 

- two hundred signals of distress is best told in his 

own words. 

Father Damien was with his people on the dark 
rocks,- and behind him the * sombre purple cliffs 
crowned with white clouds. Down their sides leaped 
the cataracts. The sun was getting low in the heavens. 
. . . I saw the last of Molokai in a golden veil of mist/ 

With Mr. Clifford's departure an increase of pain 
and suffering came upon the invalid, the last agonising 
steps upon that road which would lead to his final 
Calvary. Yet, as might have been expected, he 
bore his Cross nobly, resolutely, and without com- 

One great consolation remained with him the 
insides of his hands were untouched by the disease, so 
that almost until the end he was able to celebrate the 
Holy Communion and rejoice in the Presence of his 
Lord. On Molokai the dread malady often caused all 
the fingers and toes of the sufferers literally to rot 
away ; indeed, some of the victims even went so far as 
to chop off their dead fingers and toes as if they were 
made of wood. But in Damien's case the inside of his 
hands, anointed with the Holy Oils on the day of his 
Ordination, remained unharmed. Readers of Ben 
Hur will remember that in that dreadful dungeon in 
which the hero's mother and sister were imprisoned 
a leper had been the previous occupant, and it was in 


their hands that the unhappy captives were first aware 
that they had been attacked by the disease. 

Springtime, with its promise of life and youth, drew 
near, but on the leper island of Molokai, behind its 
dark barrier of rocks and high-flung spray, the devoted 
missionary prepared for the final bearing of the Cross 
which should lead him to the gateway of his joyful 

Tea, I will follow Thee, dear Lord and Master ; 

Will follow Thee through fasting and temptation, 
Through all Thine agony and bloody sweat. 

Thy Cross and Passion, even unto death. 1 




THE shepherd was giving his life for his sheep, 
slowly, with bitter anguish, but with joyous 
and willing surrender. Stretching himself 
upon his Cross, he was entering into the final majesty 
of his passion. He who had endured so much, such 
crucifixion of body, soul, and spirit, was not called 
upon to endure that strange and awful outer darkness 
experienced by so many of the saints, when in agonised 
despair the soul cries aloud, " My God, my God, 
why hast Thou forsaken me ? " Damien's faith was 
perhaps too simple for this, his nature too childlike. 

Yet, though not tormented with this deepest woe of 
the human spirit, one form of mental suffering was his 
- the feeling of so little accomplished. His character 
had been assailed, his motives misjudged, his actions 
misinterpreted. Many of whom he had hoped much 
had disappointed him ; enemies had lurked around, 
among them those with whom he had walked in the 
House of God as friends - even his dear ones at home 
seem to have misunderstood him. It is true that the 
affection and sympathy from England had cheered 
him, but England was so far away, and very little 
praise from the outer world ever reached him. And 
he was only forty-nine, in the prime of life, and dying 
by inches. 

One is irresistibly reminded at this stage in his 



history of St. Paul alone and weary in his Roman 
prison, writing those words of supreme pathos, * Only 
Luke is with me ' ; of the girl St. Joan deserted by all, 
dying amidst the flames as her scorched lips breathed 
the name of her Divine Lover ; of Bishop Patteson 
lying in the majesty of death far from his own race, with 
the five mystic wounds upon his body and the strange 
knotted palm-branch upon his breast. In common 
with these saints and martyrs before him, possessed 
with that humility which showed his greatness, Damien 
would doubtless have written * Failure ' across the page 
of his life, but posterity has emblazoned it instead in 
letters of gold. 

Some of those who from jealousy or narrowness of 
vision lifted up their voices against Damien dared to 
say that the father needlessly exposed himself to 
infection. That he exposed himself to infection night 
and day every hour he passed on that island was 
splendidly true, but that this exposure was ever careless 
or unnecessary was the Devil's own lie. Damien 
took up his life-work on Molokai's dreadful shore 
primarily to bring souls to Christ, knowing full well 
that ultimately he must die in the attempt. No half- 
measures would have won the bestial inhabitants of 
that horrible charnel-house. It was only by becoming, 
as he himself says, a leper among lepers, that he was 
able to bring, them into the glorious liberty of the sons 
of God. Through what physical sickness and revulsion, 
what mental torture, what loneliness and spiritual 
anguish this led him, not even those who loved him 
best could ever realise 1 That was a secret, hidden 
deep in the sacred, compassionate heart of God. 
\ In reference to the fact that even his dear ones at 


home seem to have failed him, it must be remembered 
that the soul's greatest agonies come, often unwittingly, 
from the nearest and dearest. Other folk may be 
angry, depressed, vindictive, may misconstrue one's 
actions, take away ohe's character, libel one's motives, 
and it is hard, very hard, but should any of these things 
come from a dear one, a beloved friend-or relation, 
then it is a cross indeed. In Damien's case it was those 
he loved with such passionate ardour, for whom he 
prayed with such deep devotion - his brother Pamphile 
and his nieces who appear to have been treating him 
as though they were ashamed of his having contracted 
the disease which was to prove the brightest jewel in 
his martyr's crown. With touching words he writes : 
' . . . Whilst tending the lepers I have become a 
leper myself, and I try to bear as best I can the heavy 
burden which it has pleased God to lay upon me * . . 
pray for me.' 

The above, written on February 4th, 1889, just ten 
weeks before he was to die, breathes the same spirit 
of resignation of which blessed Catherine of Siena 
wrote five hundred years previously : 

* ... The more pain we suffer down here with 
Christ crucified, the more glory shall we receive : 
and no pain will be so much rewarded as mental 
pain and labour of the heart, for these are the great- 
est pains of all, and therefore worthy of the greatest 

Yet withal, in spite of disillusionment, disappoint- 
ment, and ceaseless pain, his heart of irrepressible 
gaiety made him present a cheerful face and demeanour 


to those around him. The dark, curling hair and short 
beard were turning grey, the eyebrows were gone, the 
short, straight nose had sunken in, the forehead was 
swollen and ridged, the ears were greatly enlarged. 
The hands and face were covered with incipient boils, 
the splendidly built body marred by many signs of 
disease. Yet, in spite of all, it was still a pleasure to 
those around him to look at his bright, sensitive face, 
the tender, humorous eyes, and it is easy to picture his 
still beautiful smile as he uttered his Nunc dimittis : 
"Well, God's will be done 1 He knows best. My 
work, with all its faults and failures, is in His hands, 
and before Easter I shall see my Saviour/* 

On February i8th, 1889, he wrote his last letter to 
his brother Pamphile, assuring him that he was still 
happy and contented, desiring nothing but the com- 
plete fulfilment of God's holy will. At that date he 
was still able to go each morning to the Altar, though, 
poor, faithful soul, with much difficulty, and not a 
day passed that he omitted to remember each one of his 
dear ones in prayer, as had been his unfailing custom 
from the very beginning of his ministry. 

Two days later he sent a message to his English 
visitor, whom he called his ' good friend Edward,' and 
who, with the Rev. H. H. Chapman, whom in life 
he had never seen, were seldom far from his thoughts, 
ranking among his most beloved friends : * . . . My 
love and good wishes. I try to make slowly my Way 
of the Cross and hope to be soon on the top of my 

* I try to make slowly my Way of the Cross and hope 
to be soon on the top of my Golgotha.' Beautiful, 
appropriate words 1 His was a veritable Via Dolorosa^ 


a true Way of Sorrows, and he had been walking in it 
for sixteen weary years. Perhaps with his love of 
pictures, when writing these words he had in mind the 
set of the ' Stations of the Cross ' which Mr. Clifford 
had brought with him from England for his church, 
and which he had received with such touching gratitude. 

On March 28th he took to his bed, which he never 
left again. Having set his earthly affairs in order, on 
the 3Oth he made his preparation for death. Though 
suffering intensely in the mouth and throat, he never 
complained, and Brother James, his faithful nurse 
both day and night, afterwards wrote that he had never 
seen a happier death. The earlier feelings of failure 
and disappointment had been appeased ; he was able 
to rejoice in the churches, the schools, the orphanages, 
and the hospital which he had founded, and not least 
in his faithful band of helpers, who, inspired by his 
example, had given up everything they held dear to 
labour on this island of death. 

Father Wendolin heard his general Confession, 
then made his own, after which together they renewed 
the vows which bound them together in their Brother- 
hood, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus 
and Mary ; for it must not be forgotten that, although 
he had worked so much alone, and quite apart from the 
life of his Community, Damien was a monk, devoted to 
his Order and a faithful follower of its rules and 

On April ist he received the Sacred Viaticum, that 
Holy Food in whose strength the Christian traverses 
the dark Valley of the Shadow unafraid. During the 


day he was bright and cheerful as usual, drawing 
attention almost merrily to the unmistakable symptoms 
which foretold the end. 

" Look at my hands ; all the wounds are healing 
and the crust is becoming black -that is a sign of 
death, as you know very well. Look at my eyes ! I 
have seen so many lepers die that I cannot be mistaken. 
Death is not far off. I should have liked to have seen 
the Bishop again, but God is calling me to celebrate 
Easter with Himself. May He be blessed for it ! " 

The following day, thinking the end was near, 
Father Conradi administered Extreme Unction, but 
Damien rallied a little, still showing admirable patience 
in his enforced inactivity after a life of such super- 
abundant energy. 

With characteristic humility and self-abnegation, 
he lay on the ground on a miserable mattress like the 
poorest of his people. He who had given his all for 
his flock had so far forgotten his own needs that he 
was found to have neither change of linen nor sheets 
for his bed/ In fact, it was with the greatest difficulty 
he was persuaded to lie in a bed at all. 

" How good God is," he said, speaking with 
difficulty from his agonised throat, " to have pre- 
served me long enough to have two Priests by my side 
at my last moments, and also to have the good Sisters 
of Charity at the Leproserie [hospital]. That has been 
my Nunc dimittis. The work of the lepers is assured, 
and so I am no longer necessary and will go up yonder." 

Father Wendolin, who gives the account of these 
last precious days, bending over him, asked earnestly : 
" When you are up above, father, you will not forget 
those you leave orphans ? " 


The dying Priest's delightful humour bubbled up 
in answer : " Oh, no, if I have any credit with God, 
I will intercede for all in the Leproserie." 

The two fathers, Conradi and Wendolin, with 
Brother Joseph, were much in his company - Brother 
James, the tall young Irishman, was his constant nurse, 
tender and compassionate as any woman, as only a 
strong man can be. The three Sisters from Kalaupapa, 
those devoted daughters of St. Francis, visited him 
often, and the sweet face and gentle voice of the 
Mother Superior must have brought back fragrant 
memories of childhood's days and the loving care of 
his mother, Catherine de Veuster. 

The closing scenes of Damien's life bring with 
them a certain similarity of suffering, both mental and 
physical, to those of St. Francis of Assisi. Both were 
misjudged, misunderstood. Each was called to a 
Calvary of pain ; Francis to the creeping horror of a 
particularly agonising form of blindness, Damien to 
all the tortures of leprosy. 

Both were nursed at the last by devoted companions 
and sons in the Faith ; Francis by Brother Leo and 
his comrades, Damien by Brother James and the other 
members of his staff. Even the tender ministry of 
St. Clare, when for a short while the suffering Francis 
rested in the garden of San Damiano, has its counter- 
part in the spiritual solace which it has been seen the 
Rev. Mother Marianne, herself a Franciscan Sister, 
was able to give to the dying Priest of Molokai. 

Each died on the scene of his labours, Francis lying 
upon the bare earth of the Chapel of St. Mary of the 


Little Portion, the Portuincula, which his own hands 
had erected, Damien with the utmost difficulty being 
persuaded to rest upon a miserable apology for a bed 
flat upon the ground, in his own little house by the 
church he loved so dearly. 

Lovely and pleasant in their lives, surely in death 
these two are not far divided. Perhaps in the heavenly 
mansions they walk even now as friends 1 

For twenty-one days Damien lay in agony, while 
gradually the familiar roar of the sea, the voices of the 
children, the cry of the seabirds, grew faint to his 
dying ears, in the same way as the dear, familiar faces 
grew dim to his fading eyes. Constantly united to 
his Lord by prayer and suffering, his sublime patience 
and still cheery smile were a wonder to all. 

Father Wendolin asked that, like Elijah, he would 
leave him his mantle, that he might inherit his great 

" What would you do with it ? " was the sick man's 
reply. " It is full of leprosy/' 

Towards the end he was continually aware of the 
presence of two persons in the room, unseen to those 
around him, one at the foot of his bed and one at the 
head, but he never mentioned who they were. 

The second Sunday after Easter was his last earthly 
Sabbath, when in the Roman and Anglican Liturgies 
the Gospel for the Day speaks of the Good Shepherd 
who lays down His life for the sheep. In common with 
Catholic Christendom, this Gospel was read in the two 
churches of Molokai to the accompaniment of tears 
and sobbing from the grief-stricken people. 


On April 1 3th he became much worse, and received 
the Holy Eucharist shortly after midnight. The next 
day he still saw some of his visitors, and, although 
unable to speak, affectionately pressed the hands of 
those standing sorrowfully around him. From time 
to time he lost consciousness, and on April I5th 
(i 8 8 9) the final agony began. To the joy of those who 
loved him so dearly it was soon over, and he passed 
without a struggle into the nearer Presence of his 
Lord, lying as though asleep in the devoted arms of 
Brother James. 

How well he fell asleep ! 

Like some proud river, widening towards the sea ; 
Calmly and grandly ', silently and deep. 

Life joined eternity. 

The ' Little Shepherd ' had laid down his life for 
his sheep. 

The dread sound of the passing bell was the signal 
for the agonised wailing of the bereaved lepers to pierce 
the air in unavailing sorrow. Robed in his cassock, 
the beloved Priest lay in the calm majesty of death, all 
traces of the disease gone from his face, the wounds in 
his hands quite dry. Having been carried to the 
church at Kalawao, he lay all night before the Altar he 
had erected and served so faithfully, surrounded by 
praying groups of his mourning people. His coffin 
had been lined with white silk by the three Franciscan 
Sisters, and was covered by a black cloth, emblazoned 
with a large white Cross. 

With the dawn of morning the Holy Sacrifice was 


offered, and his poor body, with its noble, faithful 
scars, was laid to rest deep down in the golden sand, 
sealed by a thick layer of cement, looking towards 
the Altar where he gained all his strength and courage, 
his true and lasting joy. The site of the grave under 
the pandanus-tree, chosen long before by Damien 
himself, had been prepared with loving care under the 
direction of Father Wendolin. His first resting-place 
on the island had become his last. 

Faithful unto death, he had won the crown of life - 
the diadem of thorns, bloodstained and woeful, had 
become the crown of martyrdom, glorious and eternal. 

1 Rest eternal grant unto him, Lord, and let 
light perpetual shine upon him,' 



IN ancient Merrie England the leper was an outcast 
indeed -dead to all legal and political rights, 
without any privilege of citizenship, classed 
with lunatics and outlaws, incapable of inheriting either 
land or property. Even Holy Mother Church no 
longer counted him as being in the land of the living, 
actually performing the burial rites over him before 
he entered the lazar-house. 

The ceremonial for this terrible office was calculated 
to sound the utmost note of unalterable doom which 
the soul of man could be called upon -to endure* 
Sprinkled with holy water and preceded by a Priest 
with Cross borne before him, the unhappy victim was 
conducted to the church, the awful mental torture of 
that Via DoJorosa being augmented by the words of the 
Burial Office recited in his ears. Well indeed was it 
that the Cross was uplifted before his agonised eyes, 
for truly a life-long Calvary lay before him. 

Upon reaching the church, his garments were taken 
from him, and, shrouded in a funeral pall, he was 
placed before the Altar between two coffin trestles 
shrouded in black cloth, the while Mass for the Dead 
was said over him, with one word only of comfort : 

" If in weakness of body thou art made like unto 
Christ by m,eans of suffering, thou mayst surely hope 
that thou wilt rejoice in spirit with God/' 



In conclusion, after being led to the lazar-house he 
was to occupy, he was provided with a stick, some 
clothing, and a pair of clappers with which to warn 
people of his approach. After having commended him 
to the prayers of the people, the Priest warned him 
against entering any house or building where men con- 
gregated, adding various injunctions to prevent him 
from mixing in any way with other than lepers. A 
handful of earth was then thrown over his feet, with 
the words, " Be thou dead to the world, but alive 
again unto God," in completion of that poignant cere- 
monial of the Burial Office which, once seen, can 
never be forgotten, " . . . earth to earth and ashes 
to ashes." Finally he was told to have patience and 
say his prayers, for Christ would be with him. He 
was then left to work out his own salvation, despised, 
rejected, and feared of men, until at length he was 
laid to rest in the cemetery adjoining the lazar-house 
of his internment. 

One of these cemeteries, containing thousands of 
the victims of this terrible scourge, lies somewhere 
in the neighbourhood of Oxford Street, close to High 
Street, Bloomsbury, where the feet of London's hurry- 
ing millions pass continually to and fro. These leper 
cemeteries were indicated by one huge plain Cross, 
with the word ' Pax ' cut deeply upon the steps. 
* Pax I ' Peace indeed to the agonised, corrupted 
body, the tortured, suffering soul 1 

The terminology of this disease is somewhat con- 
fused ; it was called by the ancients elephantiasis and 
also lefra, but the latter term at least was also used of 


other maladies ; for example, the skin trouble now 
known as psoriasis. In modern times, both these 
names have been applied to other diseases as well, 
Elephantiasis Arabum being distinct from leprosy, 
which is distinguished as Elephantiasis Gr<ecorum or 
Lepra Arabum> sometimes also called Leontiasis. 
Black leprosy is by some supposed to have received its 
current medical name, Elephantiasis^ from the Greek 
word meaning ' elephant/ on account of its rendering 
the skin like that of the giant animal, scabrous, dark- 
coloured, and furrowed all over with tubercles. 

The name lazar-house, or lazaretto, comes from the 
word lazar, a leper, so-called from Lazarus, the 
beggar full of sores, traditionally the sores of leprosy, 
who lay at the gate of Dives in the parable recorded by 
St. Luke. The word is derived from the Hebrew, 
Efazar, * He whom God helps.' 

A favourite and merciful form of piety was the en- 
dowment of these leper hospitals. The Prior was gen- 
erally one who, having devoted himself to the care of 
these stricken brethren, had himself contracted the 
disease. A particular Order of monks, called the 
Knights of St. Lazarus, founded in Syria A.D. 1119, 
afterwards spreading over Europe, specially gave 
their lives to this service, the Master of their Order 
being always a leper, that perfect sympathy for the 
sufferers, for whom he was responsible might be 

Jean Paul Richter remarks that * the noblest deeds 
of heroism are done within four walls, not before the 
public gaze.' It is difficult even so much as to visualise 
the daily life of these saintly Knights of Lazarus, a life 
which was perpetuated by Damien on Molokai, and, 


fired by his example, is followed in many corners of 
the mission field to-day. 

The account of the food supplied to the lazar-house 
of St. Julian at St. Albans, A.D. 1335-1349, makes 
interesting reading : 

* Let every leprous brother receive from the pro- 
perty of the hospital for his living and all necessaries 
whatever he has been accustomed to receive by the 
custom observed of old in the said hospital namely, 
every week seven loaves, five white and two brown, 
made from grain as thrashed : every seventh month 
fourteen gallons of beer, or eightpence for the same. 
Let him have in addition on certain feast days, for 
every feast, one loaf, one jar of beer (or one penny for 
the same), and one obolus (a halfpenny), which is called 
the charity of the said hospital. And let every leprous 
brother receive at the Feast of Christmas forty gallons 
of good beer (or forty pence for the same), two quarters 
of pure and clean corn, which is called the great 
charity ; also at the Feast of St. Martin each leper 
shall receive one pig from the common stall, or the 
value in money if he prefer it.' On various other 
specified times the inmates of this hospital were also 
given more pennies, an obolus for buying herbs, four 
shillings for clothes, and fourteen shillings for fuel, 
* as has been ordained of old for the sake of peace and 
concord.' It will be recollected that the leper has a 
great predisposition to cold, by which his sufferings 
are greatly augmented, for which reason the last 
sentence is pregnant with much meaning. 

At Sherburn, in Durham, the diet was more varied, 
including a mess of flesh three days in the week, and 
fish, with cheese and butter on the remaining four, 


the cooking being done in a common kitchen by one 
cook. High festivals were celebrated by a double 
portion, calculated to give the leper a love of Mother 
Church. Lent provided fresh salmon and other fish ; 
Michaelmas the good old English dish of roast goose ; 
history does not relate whether the * apple sass ' was 
supplied as well. One goose was provided for every 
four lepers, a generous ration, although perhaps not 
sufficiently generous for the gentleman who remarked 
that the goose was a silly bird, as it was too much for 
one person and not enough for two. Each of these 
lepers also received every year for clothing three yards 
of white or russet woollen cloth, six yards of linen, and 
six of canvas. In addition to the ordinary supply of 
firewood, four Yule logs were provided at Christmas. 
A cartload and four trusses of straw and rushes were 
also supplied fpr bedding and floor-covering two or 
three tiihes a year. Obviously if one were afflicted 
with leprosy it was as well to find oneself in the neigh- 
bourhood of Sherburn or its like, for all the richer and 
larger hospitals were remembered by generous bene- 

The sufferer in these houses of refuge was not idle. 
He attended the services in the chapel attached to the 
lazaretto, including the Seven Hours, He worked at 
his trade or in the fields and gardens attached to the 
institution, taking regular hours for meals and recrea- 
tion. Yet, in spite of -all the kindness the monks 
showed their poor pensioners, the nature of their 
malady cast a gloom over both their own souls and the 
general atmosphere of the Community. 

An excellent example of one of these leper hospitals, 
still in use as an almshouse, is to be found in St. 


Nicholas's Lazar-House, Harbledown, lying on the 
hillside one mile outside Canterbury, at the spot from 
which mediaeval pilgrims to the * holy, blissful martyr's 
shrine ' (St. Thomas k Becket, Archbishop, martyred 
within the Cathedral, December 29th, A.D. 1170) 
caught their first glimpse of the Angel Steeple and the 
fair walled city at their feet. The lazaretto, with its 
adjacent church of St. Nicholas, patron saint of all way- 
faring men, was founded by Archbishop Lanfranc, 
and provided accommodation on separate sides of the 
building for both leprous men and women, while in 
addition an extra burden of hospitality was imposed 
upon its Prior and Brethren by the constant stream of 
pilgrims that for something like three centuries flowed 
through the little town. There being no State aid for 
the relief of distress, the lazar-house seldom confined 
its ministrations to the lepers alone, but as a side-line 
assisted any sick poor who presented themselves at 
its gates. 

The wooden leper hospital of Harbledown has twice 
been rebuilt. The present Jacobean structure dates 
from 1 674, but the church, with its Norman tower and 
doorway, its time-stained walls, and twelfth-century 
benches, is little changed since the days of Lanfranc. 
One curious feature, not unknown in churches fre- 
quented by the mediaeval pilgrim, is the slope of the 
chancel down to the west door, so arranged that the 
building can be cleansed by a plentiful flushing out 
with water, not unnecessary after its night-long occupa- 
tion by a mixed - very mixed - company of the devout, 
including many whose pilgrimage was being made for 
the healing of very grievous bodily ailments. Espec- 
ially was this purification necessary in the case of St* 


Nicholas of Harbledown, of which a portion of the 
building, formerly partitioned off by a wooden screen, 
was apportioned to the lepers. 

An interesting relic of those pilgrims immortalised 
by Chaucer as they journeyed to the venerated city 
is held by the present foundation of St. Nicholas, in 
the shape of the actual crystal from the shoe of St. 
Thomas k Becket, the upper leather of which, being 
the most venerated possession of the hospital, was 
exhibited by the Brethren for the adoration and alms of 
the pilgrims. The charming blue throat-wort, or 
campanula trachelium, known to us as the Canterbury 
bell, and accounted a sovereign remedy by the ancient 
herbalists for affections of the throat and neck, for- 
merly grew in wild profusion in the lovely countryside 
which surrounded this lepers' home. 

Not every leper had the security of being housed in 
the safety of the lazaretto. Many wandered about 
the countryside like forlorn ghosts, shunned and hated 
by all, driven away with violence from every human 
habitation, set on by savage dogs, supporting their 
wretched existence on berries or any other rough food 
the fields and woods afforded, augmented by the 
scanty charity given by the more tender-hearted, A 
large number wended their way to the lepers' wells, of 
which a famous example existed at Brewood, in Staf- 
fordshire, whose healing waters were accounted of 
special efficacy. 

Numerous churches show what is termed leper or 
low-side windows, of which a typical specimen is to 
be seen in St. Mary's, Guildford, Surrey. They are 


generally found in the south wall of the chancel, 
nearer to the ground than the other windows, the 
popular idea being that by this means the lepers, 
although not permitted to enter the church, were able 
to assist at Mass and observe the moment of Con- 
secration, just as worshippers in the Lady Chapel were 
given a view of the High Altar by means of the oblique 
opening in the chancel wall entitled the hagioscope. 
Unfortunately for this theory of the leper window, 
there are two serious objections to its veracity, one 
being that lepers were not allowed to enter the church- 
yard, the other that in most cases the window is in such 
a position that it is impossible to see the Altar, How- 
ever that may be, the name given to these windows 
reminds us of those homeless wanderers to whom in the 
hour of their greatest need even the consolations of 
Holy Church were denied. 

In the reign of Edward III (A.D. 1327-77) all lepers 
were excluded from the City of London, the porters 
stationed at the gates being liable to punishment 
should they allow them to pass. A just and sensible 
decree, but spoilt by the cruel wording of the document 
in which the lepers are accused of * endeavouring to 
contaminate others with their abominable blemish, 
that so, to their own wretched solace, they may have 
the more fellows in suffering/ 

The wickedness of this accusation was easily sur- 
passed in A.D. 1351 by King Philip of France, who, 
greedy of the riches of the lazar-houses, and in order 
that he might seize their lands and wealth, was so 
inhumane as to cause many poor lepers to be burnt 


alive, giving out as an excuse that they had poisoned 
the wells of the people - a repetition of Nero's infamous 
plea for the extermination of the Christians, using them 
as scapegoats for the burning of the city of Rome which 
his own folly and love of masquerade had caused. 
Small wonder that such deeds as these caused mediaeval 
artists to depict kings as permanently residing here- 
after in that place where the fire is never quenched 1 

Leprosy, primarily a disease of tropical and semi- 
tropical countries, was said to have been first brought 
to England by Crusaders returning from the Holy 
Land. But as lepers existed in England in the days 
of our Saxon ancestors, and the succeeding Normans 
built many lazar-houses for their accommodation, the 
Crusaders can be freely exonerated from all blame. 
The mere fact that Harbledown alone was sheltering 
its leper colony nine years before Peter the Hermit 
roused Europe to arms in the First Crusade in A,D. 
1095 is a proof that it was not the return of these 
warriors which was responsible for the appearance of 
the disease in England. 

In Ireland, St. Finian, the leper saint to whom an 
English newspaper made reference when speaking of 
Father Damien, flourished as early as the middle of 
the sixth century. His story is a curious one. Bishop 
and Abbot, surnamed Lobhar, or the Leper, St. 
Finian, whose feast is celebrated on March i6th, was 
a descendant of the Kings of Munster and a disciple 
of St. Brendan. He imitated the patience of Job under 
a loathsome and tedious distemper for which his 
surname was given him. Legend states that there 


burned within his soul the longing for a martyr's 
crown, a desire which was fulfilled by a mother bring- 
ing to him her son, dumb, blind, and leprous, beseech- 
ing that he would heal the child. Finian prayed 
earnestly, and it was revealed to him that only by taking 
the child's leprosy upon himself could the little one be 
cured. On Finian giving consent, the child was made 
whole and the saint became covered with ulcers from 
head to foot. The ruins of the first monastery he 
founded, set in a fairy-like scene of wild beauty, can 
be seen on the island of Innisfallen, on romantic Lake 

A charming story of the mythical founder of Bath, 
Prince Bladud, states that he was a victim of the malady, 
and, in consequence, being driven from his Court, 
followed the example of the Prodigal Son by becoming 
a swineherd. Unfortunately, his pigs caught the 
infection from him, but cured themselves by wallowing 
in the hot springs, the famous aqu<e solis. The Prince, 
copying their lead, rejoiced in the same happy experi- 
ence, and, on finding himself cured, founded the city 
of Bath, where, in accordance with the proper ending 
to such a story, he lived happy ever after. If any truth 
underlies the legend, then leprosy was known in 
Britain nine hundred years before the Birth of Christ, 
two thousand years before the First Crusade. 

That the malady was once extremely prevalent in 
these islands is proved by the fact that at a time when 
the population of the whole of England was only in 
the neighbourhood of two millions, about a quarter 
of that of the present metropolitan area of London, 
there were two hundred leper hospitals scattered about 
the country providingaccommodation for something like 


four thousand victims, exclusive of those who wandered 
homeless through the land. After about A.D. 1250 
every large town, as well as many villages, possessed a 
lazar-house, but many of these were poorly endowed 
and life within them was harsh and wretched, although 
they were privileged in possessing their own chapels 
and chaplains. 

Legend, that charming flowery garment which 
clings to the memories of the great, tells that the 
Emperor Constantine, being stricken with leprosy, 
was cured by receiving Baptism at the hands of St. 
Sylvester, Bishop of Rome. As in every legend there 
lies a germ of truth, in this case the Emperor's malady 
was probably the leprosy of sin, rumour having it that 
the noble gentleman had murdered both his wife 
Fausta and his son Crispus. Fortunately for his 
ultimate destiny, his conscience was in good working 
order, and after terrible remorse, succeeded by the 
genuine repentance of a contrite heart, his soul was 
cleansed from its awful guilt by the regenerating 
stream flowing from the holy Font. 

The Bible speaks much of lepers, but it must be 
borne in mind that in all probability sufferers from 
other forms of revolting skin diseases were included 
under the term - this being particularly implied in the 
Book of Leviticus, where directions are given for 
distinguishing between * clean ' and * unclean ' leprosy, 
the former being apparently curable. The predomin- 
ant and characteristic form of the disease in Scripture 
is a white variety, covering either the entire body or a 
large tract of its surface, which has obtained the name 


of lefra Mosaica. Such were the cases of Moses, 
Miriam, Naaman, and Gehazi (Exod. iv. 6 ; Num. 
xii. 10 ; 2 Kings v. i and 27 ; compare Lev. xiii. 13). 

The disease is not mentioned in the Scriptures prior 
to the residence of Israel in Egypt. The Egyptian 
and Syrian climates, and especially the rainless atmos- 
phere of the former, are very prolific in skin diseases, 
including in an exaggerated form some which are 
common in the cooler regions of Western Europe. 
The heat and drought acting for long periods upon the 
skin, and the exposure of a large surface of the latter 
to their influence, combine to predispose it to such 
affections. Even the modified forms known to our 
hospitals show a perplexing variety, and at times a 
wide departure from the. best-known and recorded 
types ; much more, then, may we expect departure 
from any routine of symptoms in this class of disorders 
amidst the fatal fecundity of the Levant. It seems 
likely that diseases also tend to exhaust their old types, 
and to reappear under new modifications. Influenza 
and measles, a few years ago considered quite mild and 
amiable, requiring only simple nursing and a little 
humouring of the patient, are now capable of assuming 
the alarming features of a modern plague. 

With regard to leprosy not being mentioned by 
Biblical writers until the exile in Egypt, Ma$etho, 
the Egyptian Priest and historian of the third century 
B.C., asserts that the Egyptians drove out the Israelites 
as infected with leprosy a strange reflex, perhaps, of 
the Mosaic narrative of the plagues of Egypt, yet 
probably also containing a germ of truth. The 
Egyptian bondage, with its studied degradations and 
privations, and especially the work of the kiln under an 


Egyptian sun, must have had a frightful tendency to 
generate this class of disorder, particularly as the 
disease is aggravated by unwholesome or innutritious 
diet, want of personal cleanliness, and hard labour in a 
heated atmosphere amongst dry or powdery substances. 
The ' baker's ' and ' bricklayer's itch ' are a distant 
relation to the leprosy endured by the Israelites as 
they worked in the brick kilns beneath Egypt's 
burning sky. 

The severity of the Levitical code of conduct drawn 
up during the forty years' wandering in the wilder- 
ness is not surprising when the circumstances are con- 
sidered. The sudden and total change of food, air, 
dwelling, and mode of life caused by the Exodus from 
Egypt to this nation of newly emancipated slaves, may 
possibly have given rise to a further tendency to skin- 
disorders, and novel and severe repressive measures 
may have been required in the desert-moving camp to 
secure the public health, or to allay the panic of in- 

By Jewish Law, as set forth in the thirteenth and 
fourteenth chapters of the Book of Leviticus, the leper 
was forced to make his dwelling without the camp (in 
Our Lord's day many of these wretched beings lived 
among the tombs out on the hillsides), cut off from all 
dealings with his brother men, and obliged to cover 
his mouth with his hand, crying, " Unclean, un- 
clean 1 " whenever by accident anyone approached his 
vicinity. No wonder to the Jew leprosy was the 
symbol of sin, for one corrupts and kills the body, the 
other destroys the immortal soul. In the Middle 
Ages the leper who was not confined to a lazar-house 
was furnished with a grey gown and a wooden clapper 


to announce his obnoxious presence he also being 
obliged to cry " Unclean, unclean," and to cover his 

Our Lord's infinite compassion was stirred by the 
sad plight of sufferers from this malady, and one of the 
most touching instances of his power is shown in the 
healing of the ten lepers, only one of whom returned 
to express his gratitude, and he was a member of the 
despised race of Samaritans. 

But although among the Jews victims of the disease 
were accounted unclean, and forced to live separated 
from their fellows, the leprosy of that period may in 
many cases have been nothing more than a particu- 
larly obnoxious and obstinate skin disease, apparently 
not producing in its victims the loss of members or the 
dreadful corruption of the flesh experienced in Eng- 
land during the Middle Ages, or in the Hawaiian 
Islands and elsewhere to-day. Naaman the Syrian, 
though a leper, was still the captain of his hosts, lead- 
ing his armies to battle, and even conducting his master 
the king, leaning upon his arm, to worship in the 
temple of Rimmon. 

Leprosy can be divided into three classes, the first 
being characterised by the whole body becoming 
white and of a scaly texture, but with little effect on 
the general health of the sufferer. This is the disease 
of Bible days, now extremely rare, the story of Gehazi, 
Elisha's servant, being an instance of the curious 
snowy pallor which the victim's skin assumed. 

The second variety is entitled anaesthetic, owing 
to the extremities becoming insensible to pain and 


gradually sloughing away with sores, the body mean- 
while becoming weak and crippled, an easy prey to 
dysentery and diarrhoea. 

The third variety, named tubercular, is distin- 
guished by swellings and discolourations, most painful 
to behold, Damien, as is so often the case, suffered 
from both these aspects of the disease, anaesthetic and 
tubercular. It will be recollected with regard to the 
anaesthetic condition of Damien that, although he had 
previously been a little suspicious he had contracted 
the malady, he was given unmistakable proof when he 
found that his foot was entirely insensible to pain 
resulting from boiling water being poured over it. 
Lepers often scald and burn themselves without being 
aware of having done so. 

The disease is first recognisable by a reddish colour 
in the face, hoarseness of voice, loss of hair, terrible 
dreams and nightmare, spots or eruptions on the skin. 
The worst form, and also the most frequent, is that in 
which the blood is corrupted and the whole system 
poisoned. Sores break out in various parts of the 
body, more particularly in the hands and feet* The 
body literally rots to pieces, fingers and toes slough off 
bit by bit, frequently followed by the disappearance 
of the whole hand or foot concerned. In this connec- 
tion a pathetic story is told by a Priest ministering to 
a leper settlement in South Africa. The gradual dis- 
appearance of their fingers caused his servers to be 
unable to fasten their cassocks, so that he was obliged 
to perform this little office for them himself, until one 
happy day friends from England sent out a truly 
noble buttonhook of giant dimensions, which to their 
joy the sufferers were able to manipulate themselves. 


Each fresh sore is attended by intense pain, but, 
once the horrid ulcer has come to its head, there is 
little more trouble, and the victim may pass some weeks 
or even months without actual pain, though dying 
steadily and surely inch by inch and hour by hour. 

The face becomes particularly repellent as gradually 
the eyebrows lose their hair, the nostrils swell, and the 
ulcers eating into the flesh cause the skin to bear the 
appearance of a honeycomb. In the latter stages, as 
the blood thickens, the nose falls in, the lips become 
enlarged, the pulse scarcely beats. Pictures of Father 
Damien, taken after he was attacked by the disease, 
show very noticeably this thickening of the lips and 
the curious honeycombed appearance of the skin. 

It is sad to see that in some cases both face and body 
become so repellent that they gradually have to be 
swathed from sight, even from the eyes of fellow 
sufferers. Perhaps the worst feature of the disease, 
particularly to those of a refined and sensitive nature, 
is that the unhappy victim becomes an offence, not 
only to himself, but to all who find themselves in his 
vicinity. Damien gives the explanation, * The flesh 
being eaten away gives a foetid odour ; even the 
breath of the leper becomes so foul that the air around 
is poisoned with it.' 

The disease varies very much in duration, some 
being released at the end of twelve months, others 
enduring their living death for ten to fifteen years. 

Investigation seems to prove that the malady can 
be propagated by heredity, inoculation, inhalation, and, 
in certain conditions, contagion. Undoubtedly in the 
past- segregation has proved the best preventative, 
although experts are hoping that in a few years* time 


compulsory segregation will be superseded by the 
voluntary treatment of early cases in clinics, a method 
which is in use at the present time in India and in 
parts of Africa under British rule. It is estimated that 
if in the early stages of the disease a leper's household 
and all other close contacts are examined for any sign 
of the disease, this examination being repeated every 
six months for five years, it ought to be possible to 
detect 80 per cent, of infections from him in the early, 
curable stage, and to treat them so that they are cured 
before they become infective. By this method, 
theoretically, the foci of infection would be reduced in 
five years to only 20 per cent. By repeating this for 
another five years the infection would be only 4 per 
cent. The method is already being tried in various 
parts of the world, and it is surprising to find how 
familiar the people of these districts are becoming with 
the early symptoms of the disease, so that it is probable 
that as soon as experience shows them the hopefulness 
of treatment in the first stages they will come forward 
in ever-increasing numbers. 

It has been stated that the Asiatic form of leprosy 
is less resistant than the African. This may partly 
account for a doctor in Kashmir stating that in his 
judgment the disease is not hereditary, although un- 
doubtedly, as in the case of tubercular parents, the 
children of lepers are more prone to the malady than 
others. Nor do some experts consider that contagion 
in adults is a very serious factor, except when a healthy 
person has an open wound upon the body. In the 
case of children, they agree that the risk of contagion 
is extremely real, particularly during the period of 
teething, when everything is put into the mouth. 


A doctor working in China declares that leprosy is 
an ordinary germ disease whose bacillus was discovered 
over half a century ago, and that the germs enter the 
body through abrasions in the skin coming from such 
causes as insect bites and scratching. Unfortunately, 
the Chinese victim is generally in an advanced state of 
the disease before he applies for aid, and the danger in 
that country lies not so much in the beggar lying by 
the wayside in all the horror of his sores and degradation, 
but in the sufferers hidden away in the homes, from 
the luxurious mansion down to the poverty-stricken 
grass hut. 

A missionary working among Japanese lepers writes : 
' It is not unusual for a man to develop leprosy after 
his marriage, and, though the wife does not become 
leprous, she transmits the disease to her children.' 

In England the dread disease seems to have spent 
its fury by the end of the sixteenth century, having 
begun to abate by the fourteenth, although it lingered 
long in Cornwall and the Shetland Isles. The lazar- 
houses became empty and the kind-hearted no longer 
beheld the weary sufferers dragging their wretched 
bodies from village to village, despised and rejected 
of men. 

The few cases that exist in our present time are 
devotedly cared for at St. Giles's Home for British 
Lepers at Bricknacre, near Chelmsford. 

The white man overseas is liable to infection not 
only the devoted doctor, nurse, or Priest, engaged in 
the work of alleviation, but also the ordinary civilian, 
if he does not take proper precautions. 


As the malady died down in England and Europe, 
chiefly through segregation, the charity of the lazar- 
houses was no longer required, and people's minds 
quickly forgot the victims who still suffered untended 
in other parts of the world. Damien's death was a 
veritable trumpet-call on behalf of these souls so 
grievously afflicted. 

It is true that a little work among lepers overseas 
had been accomplished before his passing drew such 
general attention to the cause, the labours carried out 
by the Venerable P. Donders in Dutch Guiana being 
a splendid example (1809-71). In Great Britain the 
Mission to Lepers, started in 1874, had been running 
for fifteen years, but Damien's death gave the neces- 
sary impetus to the work ; it was the torch which 
made the smouldering fires of endeavour blaze into a 
flame of loving service which has never died out. 

Medical science has made many advances in the 
treatment of leprosy since Damien's day. Never 
hopeless about the ultimate discovery of a cure, his 
own experience caused him to say, ' To my knowledge 
a cure has not yet been found. Perchance, in the near 
future, through the untiring perseverance of physicians 
it may be found/ 

To-day a cure is known, but unfortunately several 
factors militate against its efficiency, the first being that 
it is essential it should be undertaken in the early 
stages of the disease. The treatment is a long and 
often very painful process, and in the present condition 
of native life, where the cases chiefly occur, very dif- 
ficult to administer. A complete cure is practically 


guaranteed if the patient's condition is discovered at 
the onset of the disease and it is possible for him to 
remain in hospital for the treatment. 

The difficulties of the situation can be more fully 
realised when it is remembered that, unlike our own 
* particulars ' of chicken-pox, measles, scarlet fever, 
and the like, when the incubation period varies from a 
few days to no more than four weeks at the outside 
limit, the incubation period of leprosy extends to so 
much as five years. In the case of out-patients, 
particularly in India, where the hospital serves such 
vast areas, the difficulties of transport are very great, 
and the patient is extremely apt, perhaps through no 
fault of his own, to allow the stated interval between 
the treatments to extend indefinitely, so that when at 
last he comes from his distant village to present himself 
at the hospital the time between his last appearance is 
so prolonged that the whole process has to start again. 
Naturally this is not encouraging either to the patient 
or his physician. Nor are matters improved when the 
latter discovers that the invalid has eaten the ointment 
that was given him to rub on the outside of his person, 
including the paper wrapping. 

Native customs are another great stumbling-block 
in the path of the would-be healer. In the Hawaiian 
Islands the family pipe passed from the leper's mouth 
to the person sitting next to him has been shown to 
be an extremely fruitful method of propagating the 
disease. Feeding from the communal calabash has 
also had its due share in spreading the malady. 

The extremely elementary, and often non-existent, 
knowledge of the laws of hygiene and sanitation is an 
almost insuperable barrier to the treatment of leprosy 


in the native home, whether in India, Africa, or the 
South Seas. The mud floor of an African kraal or an 
Indian house, teeming with germs, often coming from 
discharges from leprous feet, is a hotbed of the 
disease, particularly in the case of the children, who, 
in the manner of babies from John o 1 Groats to Sydney, 
crawl happily on the ground, sucking their dirty, 
chubby little fingers as they go. Imagination supplies 
all further details, opening out a horrifying vista of 
the long road of reform which must be travelled before 
the skill of the doctors and nurses can have the oppor- 
tunity to effect cures on anything but a small scale, 
particularly when it is remembered that some of the 
primary causes of the disease are insanitary conditions, 
filthy habits, and unwholesome food, although persons 
in comfortable circumstances are by no means exempt. 
Even with cases which, after long treatment in hospital, 
have been discharged as completely restored to health, 
renewed residence in the native home often brings 
back a recurrence of the disease, a state of affairs which 
is heartbreaking to both doctor and patient. Added to 
these difficulties in tropical lands are the multitudes of 
creatures, particularly the jigger, whose bites un- 
doubtedly act as an inoculation. 

In some parts of Africa, particularly the Sudan, 
where leprosy is an ever-increasing peril, mice and 
crickets are great offenders, and the natives of these 
districts being heavy sleepers, a limb which has 
escaped from the covering blanket may have a nasty 
little wound inflicted upon it before the victim is 
aware that he has been bitten. The mouse of the 
Sudan is a very far-off relation of the * puir wee 
timorous beastie * of Burns's description, and the grass 


huts of the district form a perfect home, as well as a 
happy hunting-ground, both for these creatures and 
the crickets, who devour whatever they happen to 
alight upon when they jump gaily and promiscuously 
from the walls. An exposed bit of the sleeper, a 
mosquito net, a blanket, all are food for their accom- 
modating larder, and the difficulties of not figuring 
in their menu are considerable. 

Apart from inoculation, some authorities maintain 
that in some way fish food, and especially when salted 
or decomposed, is a primary cause of the disease. 

The African form of leprosy seems more resistant 
to treatment than the Asiatic, the latter responding 
far more readily to efforts of alleviation. The Sudan, 
with its heavy toll of victims, has even been blamed for 
producing the first victim, and the earlier Greek and 
Roman writers refer to the malady as an Egyptian 
disease, although it certainly existed in India and 
China in very remote periods. 

The first great advance in the treatment of leprosy 
was made in the year 1874, when Hanson discovered 
the bacillus associated with leprosy lesions, thus 
opening up the avenue for a scientific diagnosis of 
the disease. The gurjum, or gurjun, balsam, also 
called the wood oil, brought by Mr. Clifford to 
Molokai, which afforded temporary relief to Father 
Damien, is the product of a fir-tree grown in the 
Andaman Islands, off the coast of Burmah. In 
its raw condition it is a brown, sticky substance, but 
when shaken up with three parts of lime-water it 
becomes as soft and smooth as butter. 


The treatment consisted of rubbing the ointment 
all over the body, and taking a small dose of equal 
quantities of the lime-water and oil internally. 

The tree from which the gurjum oil is obtained is so 
large that houses and canoes are built from it. The 
balsam itself has been used in the East as a substitute 
for the South American copaiba as a varnish for boats, 
and for preventing the attacks of ants on timber. It 
was at the request of Mr. Manley Hopkins, the 
Hawaiian consul, that the English Government in 
1888 purchased large quantities of this oil from the 
Indian Government for the purpose of checking or 
alleviating leprosy in Hawaii. 

The chief obstacle to the efficacy of the treat- 
ment was the lepers' inherent callousness and 
hatred of exertion, so that the energy required in 
the daily rubbing of the body was seldom forth- 

In the middle of 1915, Sir Leonard Rogers made 
his important investigations with soluble sodium salts 
or soaps, of the lower melting-point fatty acids of 
chaulmoogra oil, using them by both subcutaneous 
and intra-muscular injection in leprosy. The world- 
wide issues at stake in that terrible war year of 1915 
prevented the discovery making the stir it merited, 
but it is gratifying to know that, while tens of thousands 
of the flower of the nations' youth were laying down 
their lives on that far-flung battle-line, Sir Leonard's 
research marked the dawn of a new era in the alleviation 
of the agonies of an untold number of sufferers. He 
has recently been able to improve his discovery by the 
manufacture of a new non-irritating sodium hydno- 
carpate entitled Alepol, which is being used extensively 


in British Colonies* It is especially valuable as it 
dispenses with the painful vein trouble often caused 
by the earlier treatment. 

The more chronic cases are also showing hopeful 
prospects by treatment with iodide of potassium, 
which, though extremely expensive and in some 
instances apt to involve much suffering, is already said 
to work wonders. This drug also holds possibilities 
that it may prove efficacious as a means of diagnosis 
in early doubtful cases. 

Tobacco smoke is believed to act as a disinfectant 
against the germ of leprosy, so that in some settlements 
the pipe or cigarette is encouraged both among the 
patients and those who minister to them. It will be 
remembered that Damien found his pipe of great 
assistance in overcoming the nauseating odour of the 
lepers and preventing it being carried in his own 

It is not surprising that leprosy produces a great 
depression in its victim, an abyss of darkness and 
despair which is a veritable shadow of death. The 
very appearance of the leper, with the thickened skin 
of the face puckered and nodulated, gives a * peculiar, 
heavy, morose expression/ 

In certain parts of the world, and more particularly 
in China, the popular idea maintains that the sufferer 
is afflicted because of some sin he has committed, a 
belief which was apparently held by the old Levitical 
Law. He is the social pariah of the world, and his 
doleful cry of * Unclean ' refers not only to his 
corrupted body, but also to his supposedly criminal 


soul. In China the * walking corpse/ as many thou- 
sands of centuries have named him, is not only ostra- 
cised and most cruelly treated, but popular thought 
assigns to him the belief that even in the hereafter he 
will be excluded from the society of his fellow-spirits. 
To a people whose worship of their ancestors is such a 
beautiful and important national characteristic, this 
belief in the utter damnation of lepers is fraught with a 
terrible significance, and perhaps nowhere in the world 
are missions to lepers more urgently needed. 

It is no matter for surprise that the leper in his 
physical and spiritual desolation finds amazing comfort 
in the religion of the * Man of Sorrows/ seeing in the 
Crucified Lord, wounded in hands and head, in feet 
and side, a glorified example of his own most bitter 
sufferings. From every mission hospital in the world 
comes the same story, and no more striking example of 
its truth can be found than the response of Molokai's 
bestial sufferers to the teaching of Father Damien. 
Not only in almost every case did the actual counten- 
ances of the victims come to show inward peace and 
even happiness, but one old man, lying blinded in 
hospital from the effects of the disease, went so far as 
to tell a visitor that he was thankful for the malady, 
as it had saved him from much evil. It would seem 
that the leper, an outcast from his fellow-men, becomes 
a special object of the Divine compassion. 

Damien, in the fulfilment of his priestly duties, 
observed the bad effect on a married victim of enforced 
separation from wife or husband, the oppression of 
mind thus resulting being even more unbearable than 


the physical suffering. Those so separated only 
seemed to gain relief by throwing themselves into the 
pursuit of reckless and immoral habits, a state of 
affairs truly deplorable. On the other hand, the vic- 
tim who arrived with wife or husband appeared always 
more resigned, and was naturally aided by the loving 
nursing and companionship of the other, A curious 
sidelight on these conditions is the fact that men are 
far more prone to leprosy than women, as is the case 
with various other diseases, as though going to prove 
that woman, with her burden of motherhood and its 
attendant disabilities, has sufficient to bear. 

Another strange circumstance mentioned by a 
present-day worker in a leper hospital in China is that 
it is very rare for both husband and wife to be affected 
by the disease. One healthy woman accompanied her 
leper husband to Molokai, and when eventually he 
died, she married three more leper husbands before 
* last of all she died also ' without having contracted 
the disease. Her matrimonial activities are an irresis- 
tible reminder of that lady whose alluring attributes 
caused her to be the bride of seven brothers in succes- 
sion. A dangerous precedent for the lepers to have 
followed ! 

With regard to the children of lepers, it is possible 
for them to be quite free from actual infection at birth, 
but they are naturally susceptible to the disease, and it 
is advisable, in spite of the violation of the sanctity of 
the home and the rights of parents, to remove them 
as early as possible. These little ones often have 
greatly impaired vitality, and one missionary Priest 


working in a South African leper hospital gives it as 
his experience that when they leave the nursery of the 
asylum they rarely survive. He gives a pathetic pic- 
ture of the little body in its coffin, hastily contrived 
from a starch-box, being laid to rest beneath Africa's 
burning sun, the while the few mourners sing in their 
native dialect, ' There's a Friend for little chil- 
dren. . . .' Poor little creatures 1 There is no need 
for weeping as they are laid to rest, but rather for 
rejoicing that they are spared further suffering. 

Most people felt that twelve years on the island of 
Molokai had rendered Damien immune from infec- 
tion, yet he himself always expected that he would 
find himself a victim. Determined in all things to give 
no cause to his people to feel that he feared them in 
their sufferings, except that he lived strictly apart 
and attended carefully to the ordinary laws of health 
and hygiene, the young Padre entered into every cir- 
cumstance of their lives. 

It is even stated that he accepted his turn of the 
horrible communal pipe, though with much inward 
revulsion. Whether or no this latter is true, it is cer- 
tain that he lived constantly in a polluted atmosphere, 
dressing the sufferers' sores with his own hands, 
washing their dreadful bodies, visiting their death- 
beds, bending close to catch their husky voices, even 
digging their graves. It was a foregone conclusion 
that sooner or later he must rank among them. 

The supreme sacrifice of his life had been offered, 
and Damien had won the martyr's crown. He who 
on earth had received little reward, in death became a 


world-hero. It was fitting that England, which had 
shown him the greatest friendship, should have been the 
first to receive trustworthy information of his passing. 

The sad news coming to Honolulu flashed across 
the world, appearing on the posters of every European 
and American capital. A few days after his death a 
Solemn Requiem was held in the cathedral at Hono- 
lulu, where twenty-five years before he had celebrated 
his first Mass. On this latter occasion all the principal 
persons on the island were present. 

Emotion without precedent was caused by the news. 
All classes united in mourning his loss, the papers, 
rivalling in praise of his name, gave him the title of 
the * Hero of Charity.' Such sympathy in what was 
felt to be a common loss had never before been ex- 
perienced between Roman Catholics and other 
denominations, and in proclaiming his honour all 
barriers of class and creed were broken down. The 
Church Times stated that it rejoiced in being able to 
anticipate the Roman Curia by adding Damien's name 
to the Church's bede-roll of the saints. 

England arose immediately to action, and the Prince 
of Wales - afterwards King Edward VI I -with his 
generous heart, presided at a public meeting at which 
three resolutions were passed : 

1. That a suitable monument should be erected at 

2. That a Damien Institute should be established, 
where the study of leprosy might be the leading 

3. That a detailed enquiry should be made into 
the conditions and betterment of lepers residing in 
India and the other British Dominions. 


Unlike many resolutions passed at public meetings, 
ill three of the above were faithfully carried out. 

With regard to the first - the erection of a suitable 
nonument - Damien's English friends sent out to 
Molokai a beautiful Cross composed of finest British 
granite, fitting symbol of the heroic Priest's character, 
\ white marble tablet attached to the Cross was en- 
jraved with his -sculptured profile and the words so 
ippropriate to his faithful ministry : 

* Greater love hath no man than this, that a man 
lay down his life for his friends/ 



Sydney, February 25, 1890. 

SIR, It may probably occur to you that we have met, and 
visited, and conversed; on my side, with interest. You may 
remember that you have done me several courtesies, for which 
I was prepared to be grateful. But there are duties which 
come before gratitude, and offences which justly divide 
friends, far more acquaintances. Your letter to the Reverend 
H. B. Gage is a document, which, in my sight, if you had 
filled me with bread when I was starving, if you had sat up 
to nurse my father when he lay a-dying, would yet absolve 
me from the bonds of gratitude. You know enough, doubt- 
less, of the process of canonisation to be aware that, a hun- 
dred years after the death of Damien, there will appear a 
man charged with the painful office of the devil* s advocate. 
After that noble brother of mine, and of all frail clay, shall 
have lain a century at rest, one shall accuse, one defend him. 
The circumstance is unusual that the devil's advocate should 
be a volunteer, should be a member of a sect immediately 
rival, and should make haste to take upon himself his ugly 
office ere the bones are cold; unusual, and of a taste which 
I shall leave my readers free to qualify; unusual, and to me 
inspiring. If I have at all learned the trade of using words 
to convey truth and to arouse emotion, you have at last fur- 
nished me with a subject. For it is in the interest of all 
mankind and the cause of public decency in every quarter of 

1 From "Lay Morals and Other Papers," by Robert Louis Stevenson. 
Copyright 1898, 1911, by Charles Scribner's Sons. 



the world, not only that Damien should be righted, but that 
you and your letter should be displayed at length, in their true 
colours, to the public eye. 

To do this properly, I must begin by quoting you at large: 
I shall then proceed to criticise your utterance from several 
points of view, divine and human, in the course of which I 
shall attempt to draw again and with more specification the 
character of the dead saint whom it has pleased you to vilify: 
so much being done, I shall say farewell to you for ever. 

"Honolulu, August 2, 1889. 
"REV. H. B. GAGE. 

"Dear Brother, In answer to your inquiries about Father 
Damien, I can only reply that we who knew the man are 
surprised at the extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he 
was a most saintly philanthropist. The simple truth is, he 
was a coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted. He was not 
sent to Molokai, but went there without orders; did not stay 
at the leper settlement (before he became one himself), but 
circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the 
island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Hono- 
lulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaug- 
urated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as 
occasion required and means were provided. He was not a 
pure man in his relations with women, and the leprosy of 
which he died should be attributed to his vices and careless- 
ness. Others have done much for the lepers, our own min- 
isters, the government physicians, and so forth, but never 
with the Catholic idea of meriting eternal life. Yours, etc., 

"C. M. HYDE." x 

To deal fitly with a letter so extraordinary, I must draw 
at the outset on my private knowledge of the signatory and 
his sect. It may offend others; scarcely you, who have been 
so busy to collect, so bold to publish, gossip on your rivals* 
And this is perhaps the moment when I may best explain to 
you the character of what you are to read: I conceive you as 

1 From the Sydney Presbyterian, October 26, 1889. 


a man quite beyond and below the reticences of civility: with 
what measure you mete, with that shall it be measured you 
again; with you, at last, I rejoice to feel the button off the 
foil and to plunge home. And if in aught that I shall say I 
should offend others, your colleagues, whom I respect and 
remember with affection, I can but offer them my regret; I 
am not free, I am inspired by the consideration of interests 
far more large; and such pain as can be inflicted by any- 
thing from me must be indeed trifling when compared with 
the pain with which they read your letter. It is not the hang- 
man, but the criminal, that brings dishonour on the house. 
You belong, sir, to a sect I believe my sect, and that in 
which my ancestors laboured which has enjoyed, and partly 
failed to utilise, an exceptional advantage in the islands of 
Hawaii. The first missionaries came; they found the land 
already self -purged of its old and bloody faith; they were 
embraced, almost on their arrival, with enthusiasm; what 
troubles they supported came far more from whites than 
from Hawaiians; and to these last they stood (in a rough 
figure) in the shoes of God. This is riot the place to enter 
into the degree or causes of their failure, such as it is. One 
element alone is pertinent, and must here be plainly dealt with. 
In the course of their evangelical calling, they or too many 
of them grew rich. It may be news to you that the houses 
of missionaries are a cause of mocking on the streets of Hono- 
lulu. It will at least be news to you, that when I returned 
your civil visit, the driver of my cab commented on the size, 
the taste, and the comfort of your home. It would have been 
news certainly to myself, had any one told me that afternoon 
that I should live to drag such matter into print. But you 
see, sir, how you degrade better men to your own level; and 
it is needful that those who are to judge betwixt you and me, 
betwixt Damien and the devil's advocate, should understand 
your letter to have been penned in a house which could raise, 
and that very justly, the envy and the comments of the 
passers-by. I think (to employ a phrase of yours which I 
admire) it "should be attributed" to you that you have never 
visited the scene of Damien's life and death. If you hnd, and 


had recalled it, and looked about your pleasant rooms, even 
your pen perhaps would have been stayed. 

Your sect (and remember, as far as any sect avows me, 
it is mine) has not done ill in a worldly sense in the Hawaiian 
Kingdom. When calamity befell their innocent parishioners, 
when leprosy descended and took root in the Eight Islands, a 
quid p-o quo was to be looked for. To that prosperous mis- 
sion, and to you as one of its adornments, God had sent at 
last an opportunity. I know I am touching here upon a nerve 
acutely sensitive. I know that others of your colleagues look 
back on the inertia of your Church, and the intrusive and 
decisive heroism of Damien, with something almost to be 
called remorse. I am sure it is so with yourself; I am per- 
suaded your letter was inspired by a certain envy, not essen- 
tially ignoble, and the one human trait to be espied in that 
performance. You were thinking of the lost chance, the past 
day; of that which should have been conceived and was not; 
of the service due and not rendered. Time wa$ y said the voice 
in your ear, in your pleasant room, as you sat raging and 
writing; and if the words written were base beyond parallel, 
the rage, I am happy to repeat it is the only compliment I 
shall pay you the rage was almost virtuous. But, sir, when 
we have failed, and another has succeeded; when we have 
Stood by, and another has stepped in; when we sit and grow 
bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain, uncouth peasant 
steps into the battle, under the eyes of God, and succours the 
afflicted, and consoles the dying, and is himself afflicted in 
his turn, and dies upon the field of honour the battle cannot 
be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has suggested. It is a 
lost battle, and lost for ever. One thing remained to you in 
your defeat some rags of common honour; and these you 
have made haste to cast away. 

Common honour; not the honour of having done anything 
right, but the honour of not having done aught conspicuously 
foul; the honour of the inert: that was what remained to you. 
We are not all expected to be Damiens; a man may conceive 
his duty more narrowly, he may love his comforts better; 
and none will cast a stone at him for that. But will a gentle- 


man of your reverend profession allow me an example from 
the fields of gallantry? When two gentlemen compete for 
the favour of a lady, and the one succeeds and the other is 
rejected, and (as will sometimes happen) matter damaging 
to the successful rival's credit reaches the ear of the defeated, 
it is held by plain men of no pretensions that his mouth is, in 
the circumstance, almost necessarily closed. Your Church and 
Damien's were in Hawaii upon a rivalry to do well: to help, 
to edify, to set divine examples. You having (in one huge 
instance) failed, and Damien succeeded, I marvel it should 
not have occurred to you that you were doomed to silence; 
that when you had been outstripped in that high rivalry, and 
sat inglorious in the midst of your well-being, in your pleasant 
room arid Damien, crowned with glories and horrors, toiled 
and rotted in that pigstye of his under the cliffs of Kalawao 
you, the elect who would not, were the last man on earth 
to collect and propagate gossip on the volunteer who would 
and did. 

I think I see you for I try to see you in the flesh as I 
write these sentences I think I see you leap at the word 
pigstye, a hyperbolical expression at the best. "He had no 
hand in the reforms," he was "a coarse, dirty man"; these 
were your own words; and you may think it possible that I 
am come to support you with fresh evidence. In a sense, it is 
even so. Damien has been too much depicted with a conven- 
tional halo and conventional features; so drawn by men who 
perhaps had not the eye to remark or the pen to express the 
individual ; or who perhaps were only blinded and silenced by 
generous admiration, such as I partly envy for myself such 
as you, if your soul were enlightened, would envy on your 
bended knees* It is the least defect of such a method of por- 
traiture that it makes the path easy for the devil's advocate, 
and leaves for the misuse of the slanderer a considerable field 
of truth. For the truth that is suppressed by friends is the 
readiest weapon of the enemy. The world, in your despite, 
may perhaps owe you something, if your letter be the means 
of substituting once for all a credible likeness for a wax ab- 
straction. For, if that world at all remember you, on the day 


when Damien of Molokai shall be named Saint, it will be in 
virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage. 

You may ask on what authority I speak. It was my in- 
clement destiny to become acquainted, not with Damien, but 
with Dr. Hyde. When I visited the lazaretto Damien was 
already in his resting grave. But such information as I have, 
I gathered on the spot in conversation with those who knew 
him well and long: some indeed who revered his memory; 
but others who had sparred and wrangled with him, who 
beheld him with no halo, who perhaps regarded him with 
small respect, and through whose unprepared and scarcely 
partial communications the plain, human features of the man 
shone on me convincingly. These gave me what knowledge 
I possess; and I learnt it in that scene where it could be 
most completely and sensitively understood Kalawao, which 
you have never visited, about which you have never so much 
as endeavoured to inform yourself: for, brief as your letter 
is, you have found the means to stumble into that confes- 
sion. "Less than one-half of the island," you say, "is devoted 
to the lepers." Molokai "Molokai ahina" the "grey, "-lofty, 
and most desolate island along all its northern side plunges 
a front of precipice into a sea of unusual profundity. This 
range of cliff is, from east to west, the true end and fron- 
tier of the island. Only in one spot there projects into the 
ocean a certain triangular and rugged down, grassy, stony, 
windy, and rising in the midst into a hill with a dead crater: 
the whole bearing to the cliff that overhangs it somewhat the 
same relation as a bracket to a wall. With this hint you will 
now be able to pick out the leper station on a map; you will 
be able to judge how much of Molokai is thus cut off between 
the surf and precipice, whether less than a half, or less than 
a quarter, or a fifth, or a tenth or say, a twentieth; and the 
next time you burst into print you will be in a position to 
share with us the issue of your calculations. 

I imagine you to be one of those persons who talk with 
cheerfulness of that place which oxen and wain-ropes could 
not drag you to behold. You, who do not even know its situa- 
tion on the map, probably denounce sensational descriptions, 


stretching your limbs the while in your pleasant parlour on 
Beretania Street. When I was pulled ashore there one early 
morning, there sat with me in the boat two sisters, bidding 
farewell (in humble imitation of Damien) to the lights and 
joys of human life. One of these wept silently; I could not 
withhold myself from joining her. Had you been there, it is 
my belief that nature would have triumphed even in you; and 
as the boat drew but a little nearer, and you beheld the stairs 
crowded with abominable deformations of our common man- 
hood, and saw yourself landing in the midst of such a popu- 
lation as only now and then surrounds us in the horror of a 
nightmare what a haggard eye you would have rolled over 
your reluctant shoulder towards the house on Beretania 
Street! Had you gone on; had you found every fourth face 
a blot upon the landscape; had you visited the hospital and 
seen the butt-ends of human beings lying there almost unrec- 
ognisable, but still breathing, still thinking, still remember- 
ing; you would have understood that life in the lazaretto is 
an ordeal from which the nerves of a man's spirit shrink, even 
as his eye quails under the brightness of the sun; you would 
have felt it was (even to-day) a pitiful place to visit and a 
hell to dwell in. It is not the fear of possible infection. That 
seems a little thing when compared with the pain, the pity, 
and the disgust of the visitor's surroundings, and the atmos- 
phere of affliction, disease, and physical disgrace in which he 
breathes. I do not think I am a man more than usually timid; 
but I never recall the days and nights I spent upon that island 
promontory (eight days and seven nights), without heartfelt 
thankfulness that I am somewhere else. I find in my diary 
that I speak of my stay as a "grinding experience": I have 
once jotted in the margin "Harrowing is the word"; and 
when the Mokolii bore me at last towards the outer world, 
I kept repeating to myself, with a new conception of their 
pregnancy, those simple words of the song 

" 5 Tis the most distressful country that ever yet was seen." 

And observe: that which I saw and suffered from was a set- 
tlement purged, bettered, beautified; the new village built, 


the hospital and the Bishop-Home excellently arranged; the 
sisters, the 'doctor, and the missionaries, all indefatigable in 
their noble tasks. It was a different place when Damien came 
there, and made his great renunciation, and slept that first 
night under a tree amidst his rotting brethren: alone with 
pestilence; and looking forward (with what courage, with 
what pitiful sinkings of dread, God only knows) to a life- 
time of dressing sores and stumps. 

You will say, perhaps, I am too sensitive, that sights as 
painful abound in cancer hospitals and are confronted daily 
by doctors and nurses. I have long learned to admire and 
envy the doctors and the nurses. But there is no cancer hos- 
pital so large and populous as Kalawao and Kalaupapa; and 
in such a matter every fresh case, like every inch of length 
in the pipe of an organ, deepens the note of the impression; 
for what daunts the onlooker is that monstrous sum of human 
suffering by which he stands surrounded. Lastly, no doctor 
or nurse is called upon to enter once for all the doors of that 
gehenna; they do not say farewell, they need not abandon 
hope, on its sad threshold; they but go for a time to their 
high calling, and can look forward as they go to relief, to 
recreation, and to rest. But Damien shut to with his own hand 
the doors of his own sepulchre. 

I shall now extract three passages from my diary at Kala- 

A. "Damien is dead and already somewhat ungratefully 
remembered in the field of his labours and sufferings. 'He 
was a good man, but very officious/ says one. Another tells 
me he had fallen (as other priests so easily do) into something 
of the ways and habits of thought of a Kanaka; but he had 
the wit to recognise the fact, and the good sense to laugh at" 
[over] "it. A plain man it seems he was; I cannot find he 
was a popular." 

B. "After Ragsdale's death" [Ragsdale was a famous 
Luna, or overseer, of the unruly settlement] "there followed 
a brief term of office by Father Damien which served only 
to publish the weakness of that noble man. He was rough 
in his ways, and he had no control. Authority was relaxed; 


Damien's life was threatened, and he was soon eager to 

<?. "Of Damien I begin to have an idea. He seems to 
have been a man of the peasant class, certainly of the peasant 
type: shrewd; ignorant and bigoted, yet with an open mind, 
and capable of receiving and digesting a reproof if it were 
bluntly administered; superbly generous in the least thing as 
well as in the greatest, and as ready to give his last shirt 
(although not without human grumbling) as he had been to 
sacrifice his life; essentially indiscreet and officious, which 
made him a troublesome colleague; domineering in all his 
ways, which made him incurably unpopular with the Kanakas, 
but yet destitute of real authority, so that his boys laughed 
at him and he must carry out his wishes by the means of 
bribes. He learned to have a mania for doctoring; and set 
up the Kanakas against the remedies of his regular rivals: 
perhaps (if anything matter at all in the treatment of such 
a disease) the worst thing that he did, and certainly the 
easiest. The best and worst of the man appear very plainly 
in his dealings with Mr. Chapman's money; he had originally 
laid it out" [intended to lay it out] "entirely for the benefit 
of Catholics, and even so not wisely, but after a long, plain 
talk, he admitted his error fully and revised the list. The 
sad state of the boys' home is in part the result of his lack of 
control; in part, of his own slovenly ways and false ideas of 
hygiene. Brother officials used to call it 'Damien's China- 
town.' 'Well/ they would say, 'your Chinatown keeps grow- 
ing.' And he would laugh with perfect good-nature, and 
adhere to his errors with perfect obstinacy. So much I have 
gathered of truth about this plain, noble human brother and 
father of ours; his imperfections are the traits of his face, by 
which we know him for our fellow; his martyrdom and his 
example nothing can lessen or annul ; and only a person here 
on the spot can properly appreciate their greatness." 

I have set down these private passages, as you perceive, with- 
out correction; thanks to you, the public has them in their 
bluntness. They are almost a list of the man's faults, for it 
is rather these that I was seeking: with his virtues, with the 


heroic profile of his life, I and the world were already 
sufficiently acquainted. I was besides a little suspicious of 
Catholic testimony; in no ill sense, but merely because 
Damien's admirers and disciples were the least likely to be 
critical. I know you will be more suspicious still; and the 
facts set down above were one and all collected from the 
lips of Protestants who had opposed the father in his life. 
Yet I am strangely deceived, or they build up the image of 
a man, with all his weaknesses, essentially heroic, and alive 
with rugged honesty, generosity and mirth. 

Take it for what it is, rough private jottings of the worst 
sides of Damien's character, collected from the lips of those 
who had laboured with and (in your own phrase) "knew 
the man"; though I question whether Damien would have 
said that he knew you. Take it, and observe with wonder 
how well you were served by your gossips, how ill by your 
intelligence and sympathy; in how many points of fact we are 
at one, and how widely our appreciations vary. There is some- 
thing wrong here; either with you or me. It is possible, for 
instance, that you, who seem to have so many ears in Kalawao, 
had heard of the affair of Mr. Chapman's money, and were 
singly struck by Damieri's intended wrong-doing. I was struck 
with that also, and set it fairly down; but I was struck much 
more by the fact that he had the honesty of mind to be con- 
vinced. I may here tell you that it was a long business; that 
one of his colleagues sat with him late into the night, multi- 
plying arguments and accusations; that the father listened as 
usual with "perfect good-nature and perfect obstinacy"; but 
at the last, when he was persuaded "Yes," said he, "I am 
very much obliged to you; you have done me a service; it 
would have been a theft." There are many (not Catholics 
merely) who require their heroes and saints to be infallible; 
to these the story will be painful; not to the true lovers, 
patrons, and servants of mankind. 

And I take it, this is a type of our division; that you are 
one of those who have an eye for faults and failures; that you 
take a pleasure to find and publish them; and that, having 
found them, you make haste to forget the overvailing virtues 


and the real success which had alone introduced them to your 
knowledge. It is a dangerous frame of mind. That you may 
understand how dangerous, and into what a situation it has 
already brought you, we will (if you please) go hand-in-hand 
through the different phrases of your letter, and candidly 
examine each from the point of view of its truth, its apposite- 
ness, and its charity. 

Damien was coarse. 

It is very possible. You make us sorry for the lepers who 
had only a coarse old peasant for their friend and father. 
But you, who were so refined, why were you not there, to 
cheer them with the lights of culture? Or may I remind you 
that we have some reason to doubt if John the Baptist were 
genteel ; and in the case of Peter, on whose career you doubt- 
less dwell approvingly in the pulpit, no doubt at all he was a 
"coarse, headstrong" fisherman! Yet even in our Protestant 
Bibles Peter is called Saint. 

Damien was dirty. 

He was. Think of the poor lepers annoyed with this dirty 
comrade! But the clean Dr. Hyde was at his food in a fine 

Damien was headstrong. 

I believe you are right again; and I thank God for his 
strong head and heart. 

Damien was bigoted. 

I am not fond of bigots myself, because they are not fond 
of me. But what is meant by bigotry, that we should regard 
it as a blemish in a priest? Damien believed his own religion 
with the simplicity of a peasant or a child; as I would I could 
suppose that you do. For this, I wonder at him some way 
oft; and had that been his only character, should have avoided 
him in life. But the point of interest in Damien, which has 
caused him to be so much talked about and made him at last 
the subject of your pen and mine, was that, in him, his bigotry, 
his intense and narrow faith, wrought potently for good, and 


strengthened him to be one of the world's heroes and exem- 

Damien was not sent to Molokai y but went there without 

Is this a misreading? or do you really mean the words for 
blame? I have heard Christ, in the pulpits of our Church, 
held up for imitation on the ground that His sacrifice was 
voluntary. Does Dr. Hyde think otherwise? 

Damien did not stay at the settlement, etc. 

It is true he was allowed many indulgences. Am I to 
understand that you blame the father for profiting by these, 
or the officers for granting them? In either case, it is a mighty 
Spartan standard to issue from the house on Beretania Street; 
and I am convinced you will find yourself with few sup- 

Damien had no hand in the reforms^ etc. 

I think even you will admit that I have already been frank 
in my description of the man I am defending; but before I 
take you up upon this head, I will be franker still, and tell 
you that perhaps nowhere in the world can a man taste a 
more pleasurable sense of contrast than when he passes from 
Damien's "Chinatown" at Kalawao to the beautiful Bishop- 
Home at Kalaupapa. At this point, in my desire to make all 
fair for you, I will break my rule and adduce Catholic testi- 
mony. Here is a passage from my diary about my visit to 
the Chinatown, from which you will see how it is (even 
now) regarded by its own officials: "We went round all the 
dormitories, refectories, etc. dark and dingy enough, with a 
superficial cleanliness, which he" [Mr. Dutton, the lay 
brother] "did not seek to defend. 'It is almost decent/ said 
he; 'the sisters will make that all right when we get them 
here.' " And yet I gathered it was already better since 
Damien was dead, and far Better than when he was there 
alone and had his own (not always excellent) way. I have 
now come far enough to meet you on a common ground of 
fact; and I tell you that, to a mind not prejudiced by jealousy, 


all the reforms of the lazaretto, and even those which he 
most vigorously opposed, are properly the work of Damien. 
They are the evidence of his success; they are what his hero- 
ism provoked from the reluctant and the careless. Many 
were before him in the field; Mr. Meyer, for instance, of 
whose faithful work we hear too little: there have been many 
since; and some had more worldly wisdom, though none had 
more devotion, than our saint. Before his day, even you will 
confess, they had effected little. It was his part, by one strik- 
ing act of martyrdom, to direct all men's eyes on that dis- 
tressful country. At a blow, and with the price of his life, he 
made the place illustrious and public. And that, if you will 
consider largely, was the one reform needful; pregnant of 
all that should succeed. It brought money; it brought (best 
individual addition of them all) the sisters; it brought super- 
vision, for public opinion and public interest landed with the 
man at Kalawao. If ever any man brought reforms, and 
died to bring them, it was he. There is not a clean cup or 
towel in the Bishop-Home, but dirty Damien washed it. 

Damien was not a fare man in his relations with women, 

How do you know that? Is this the nature of the conver- 
sation in that house on Beretania Street which the cabman 
envied, driving past? racy details of the misconduct of the 
poor peasant priest, toiling under the cliffs of Molokai? 

Many have visited the station before me; they seem not 
to have heard the rumour. When I was there I heard many 
shocking tales, for my informants were men speaking with 
the plainness of the laity; and I heard plenty of complaints 
of Damien. Why was this never mentioned? and how came 
it to you in the retirement of your clerical parlour? 

But I must not even seem to deceive you. This scandal, 
when I read it in your letter, was not new to me. I had 
heard it once before; and I must tell you how. There $ame 
to Samoa a man from Honolulu; he, in a public-house on the 
beach, volunteered the statement that Damien had "contracted 
the disease from having connection with the female lepers"; 


and I find a joy in telling you how the report was welcomed 
in a public-house. A man sprang to his feet; I am not at 
liberty to give his name, but from what I heard I doubt if 
you would care to have him to dinner in Beretania Street. 

"You miserable little " (here is a word I dare not print, 

it would so shock your ears). "You miserable little ," 

he cried, "if the story were a thousand times true, can't you 

see you are a million times a lower for daring to repeat 

it?" I wish it could be told of you that when the report 
reached you in your house, perhaps after family worship, you 
had found in your soul enough holy anger to receive it with 
the same expressions: ay, even with that one which I dare not 
print ; it would not need to have been blotted away, like 
Uncle Toby's oath, by the tears of the recording angel; it 
would have been counted to you for your brightest righteous- 
ness. But you have deliberately chosen the part of the man 
from Honolulu, and 'you have played it with improvements 
of your own. The man from Honolulu miserable, leering 
creature communicated the tale to a rude knot of beach- 
combing drinkers in a public-house, where (I will so far 
agree with your temperance opinions) man is not always at 
his noblest; and the man from Honolulu had himself been 
drinking drinking, we may charitably fancy, to excess. It 
was to your "Dear Brother, the Reverend H. B. Gage," that 
you chose to communicate the sickening story; and the blue 
ribbon which adorns your portly bosom forbids me to allow 
you the extenuating plea that you were drunk when it was 
done. Your "dear brother" a brother indeed made haste 
to deliver up your letter (as a means of grace, perhaps) to 
the religious papers; where, after many months, I found and 
read and wondered at it; and whence I have now reproduced 
it for the wonder of others. And you and your dear brother 
have, by this cycle of operations, built up a contrast very 
edifying to examine in detail. The man whom you would 
not care to have to dinner, on the one side ; on the other, the 
Reverend Dr. Hyde and the Reverend H. B. Gage: the Apia 
bar-room, the Honolulu manse. 

But I fear you scarce appreciate how you appear to your 


fellow-men; and to bring it home to you, I will suppose your 
story to be true. I will suppose and God forgive me for 
supposing it that Damien faltered and stumbled in his nar- 
row path of duty; I will suppose that, in the horror of his 
isolation, perhaps in the fever of incipient disease, he, who was 
doing so much more than he had sworn, failed in the letter 
of his priestly oath he, who was so much a better man than 
either you or me, who did what we have never dreamed of 
daring he too tasted of our common frailty. "0, lago, the 
pity of it!" The least tender should be moved to tears; the 
most incredulous to prayer. And all that you could do was 
to pen your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage! 

Is it growing at all clear to you what a picture you have 

drawn of your own heart? I will try yet once again to make 

it clearer. You had a father: suppose this tale were about him, 

and some informant brought it to you, proof in hand: I am 

not making too high an estimate of your emotional nature 

when I suppose you would regret the circumstance? that you 

would feel the tale of frailty the more keenly since it shamed 

the author of your days? and that the last thing you would 

do would be to publish it in the religious press? Well, the man 

who tried to do what Damien did, is my father, and the father 

of the man in the Apia bar, and the father 

of all who love goodness; and he was 

your father too, if God had 

given you grace to see it*