Molokai, one of the least inhabited Hawaiian islands (population 7000), is an island with much natural beauty and a unique spirituality. Molokai served as home for sixteen years, to Father Damien, a 19th century Sacred Hearts priest from Belgium, who volunteered to care for the Hansen disease (leprosy) patients at Kalawao, on the desolate Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Father Damien, Saint Damien of Molokai, Apostle to the Patients. Although his title is now “Saint Damien”, for the people of Molokai and for all those who find inspiration in his story or who walk in his steps this beloved man remains “Father Damien.”
In his ministry on Molokai, Father Damien bandaged and comforted the leprosy patients; built hospitals, houses, chapels and coffins; organized picnics; educated the children; and ministered to the patient’s spiritual needs. In his work with the patients who had been exiled to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula, Father Damien reformed a settlement known for its lawlessness, filth and despair, into a community of individual respect, love and laughter. Father Damien built a community of love and hope through his teaching and living Jesus Christ’s gospel message of unconditional love. Following Father Damien’s death in 1889, his work among the patients was continued by Mother Marianne Cope, OSF (canonized Saint Marianne in 2012) and by Brother Dutton, a US civil war veteran.