Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review: St. Damien of Molokai: Apostle of the Exiled

My latest read for The Catholic Company proved to be both challenging and rewarding.  The book was challenging only because of this reader's own personal distractions, which made it very difficult to focus on the historical details that prevailed throughout the first quarter of the book.  There is so much that I did not know about the Hawaiian Islands and their history!  And there was great reward in learning more about the man who dedicated his final years to ministering to the men, women and children who were exiled from their families when they had developed leprosy, now known as Hansen's Disease.  Fr. Damien himself eventually succumbed to the disease after serving, ministering and living among those who were discarded on the island of Molokai for sixteen years.

Like most saints we read about, Fr. Damien was abundantly human yet praised the Lord even under the most difficult circumstances.   Prone to stubbornness yet committed to the Lord fully, he learned how to medically care for those he was charged with on top of seeing to their other most basic needs.  He treated them with dignity, built them small cottage-like homes for shelter and even started choir groups.  Fr. Damien also suffered much persecution from the outside world, including  some among the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts to which he belonged.  Some attacked him as well as his reputation.  One such example was that of a protestant minister who had never even met Fr. Damien and his name was Rev. Dr. Hyde.  He assured the world through various news articles and open letters that to have contracted leprosy, an individual such as Fr. Damien had surely been loose with women, was given to bouts of drunken lewdness and so on.  Among many circles in the day, leprosy was viewed as punishment for sins committed and not a disease contracted through contact with a deadly bacteria.  Author Robert Louis Stephenson, who had visited the colony shortly following Fr. Damien's death, rushed his pen to paper and quite succinctly held Dr. Hyde's charges to the fire.  See this news article written in June of 1890. 

Fr. Damien had won many supporters from unlikely places and many of those were from Britain.  A group of individuals who belonged to the Church of England understood the loving care Fr. Damien gave to those people and the obvious sacrifices he made when he undertook the mission in Molokai.  Money poured in for supplies to assist the people whose own country only issued them one outfit and one set of linens per year.  This only led to more envy and grievous untruths being spread about Fr. Damien and his intentions.  He prevailed and continued to strive to be a model of Christ to his beloved exiled brothers and sisters as others swam in a lake of calumny and gossip. 

St. Damien of Molokai: Apostle of the Exiled was a very interesting and inspirational read.  Though only 288 pages long including the index, it covers the historical background of the Hawaiian Islands, the missions of not only the Catholic Church but various protestant groups and political influences which prevailed in the 19th century.   I also appreciated the Appendixes in the back of the book which included the open letter written by Mr. Robert Louis Stephenson, an account made by a priest who was with Fr. Damien in his final days and letters dealing with his cause for sainthood. Fr. Damien was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI on October 9, 2009. 

St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us!

No comments: