Saturday, May 11, 2013

Joseph de Veuster

Technically, yesterday was the feast day of Joseph de Veuster AKA Saint Damien Joseph de Veuster of Moloka'i, but I was busy & then I posted something else & then I got sidetracked....sue me.

Our boy here is one of the Hawai'ian leper colony saints, yes there is more than one.  OKay I thought there was more than one but all I can find is his guy.  A LOT of this guy.  In my defense he has several names, the most common being Father Damien which is NOT what the register of saints people called him.  But there just could not be two guys hanging in Moloka'i at about the same time being defended by...

You know what, I am starting again.  Again again since I meant to post this yesterday.  Here we go:

Joseph de Veuster was studying to be a priest & his brother (Pamphile-what a great name!) was a priest & this brother was supposed to go minister to the people of Moloka'i but he got sick sooooooo....Joseph took his place & was ordained in Hawai'i & worked (famously) in the leper colony.  & that was his life.  Not an easy life, kind of a short one (he died before his 50th birthday).  It will come as no surprise that Father Damian contracted leprosy himself, but he more or less knew that would happen going in. 

There a lot of famous stories about Father Damien, his piety (meh), his devotion to his parishioners (more impressive).  But the stories I like best about Father Damian have to do with what the outside world thought of him.  Keep in mind, this is a man living in a leper colony in 19th century Hawai'i.  This is not one of those high profile leadership roles.  But he swung it.  Swinged it?  Swang it?

First the small story, which is really more of a factoid.  When Hawai'i was made a state & got to add two images to the United States Capitol Building, his statue was one of the two.  I want you to stop now & think about this.  A cluster of Pacific island's with a vibrant (gory & beautiful) history, so different from every other state in the union & proud of it.  they can choose two iconic figures to say to the country tis is who we are & they choose a leper.  Double dog strange when you consider most of the white men making tis decision were descended from a very specific sect of New England Puritan.  I know right?  I had to know what the other image was:  Kamehameha, which was my first guess.

The big story, & one of my favorites among all saints stories ever, truly.

After Father Damien's death, a certain Reverend Mister Hyde referred to him as a dirty person who contracted leprosy through his own lack of hygiene, etc. & was in general undeserving of the accolades that were trickling in.  There were probably many motives for this prejudice, not the least of which Hyde was a Presbyterian & in addition to not always being super nice to the locals which father Damien was getting credit for being Presbyterians are not always super nice to Catholics.  It's kind of a thing.  What really kicked it into over drive was the DELUGE of rebuttal his letter received.  The most famous was from Robert Luis Stevenson (himself a Presbyterian) who traveled he Pacific with his family & was in Hawai'i for a significant period.  Among other things Stevenson chewed on Hyde for being such a nitpicking asshole, indicated the motive was probably jealousy & suggested that Father Damian would likely be made a saint, Reverend Mr. Hyde could be sure his own jerky behavior would be a big part of it.  You can read the letter in its entirety here.  Stevenson sent the letter in 1890, Father Damien died in 1889, & Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was published in 1886. Still, its a lovely little coincidence.

Oh oh, Father Damien was Flemish.  Another one!  & of course he is the patron of people suffering from leprosy as well as people who work to treat &/or cure it.    I am guessing he is also the patron saint of Honolulu at least & very likely all of Hawai'i, but I could not find it confirmed anywhere.

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