• 23 Jan 20

Jan 23 - “Sts. Damien and Marianne of Molokai” © artwork by Julie Lonneman. Happy Feast Day St. Marianne!

Joseph de Veuster was born in Tremelo, Belgium, in 1840. To help support his family, he quit school at age 13 to work on their farm. Six years later, Joseph resumed his studies when he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, taking the name Damien. His brother was a priest in the same congregation, and had been assigned to the Hawaiian Islands but fell ill before he could go. Damien volunteered to take his place. In 1873, he visited the Hawaiian government's leper colony on the island of Molokai. Originally he was scheduled to minister there for three months each year.

Seeing the residents’ dire need, he soon volunteered to stay with them year round. Fr. Damien quickly brought many improvements to the colony, including better housing, a new church, a new school and an orphanage. A few years later he recruited the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, led by Mother Marianne Cope, to share his ministry (More than 50 religious congregations had previously declined this mission). Mother Marianne with six other sisters arrived in 1883 to serve the female residents of the colony. In 1888 she was called to care for the dying Fr. Damien, who had contracted Hansen's disease, and to assume his burdens.

Father Damien’s and Mother Marianne’s sacrifices were all the more extraordinary because at that time there was no known cure for Hansen’s disease, which was then called leprosy.