Father Damien Day is celebrated annually on April 15 in Hawaii. Father Damien was a Roman Catholic priest and missionary. He was sent on a mission to Hawaii, where at the time, the Hawaiian Kingdom was struggling with a labor shortage and health crisis. He later volunteered at the quarantined settlement in Kalaupapa, working with the people and helping build homes, make coffins, dig graves, and more. And he spent the rest of his life helping people affected with leprosy. Father Damien Day is celebrated in remembrance of him and his deeds.
History of Father Damien Day
Father Damien or Saint Damien of Molokai was born Jozef De Veuster on January 3, 1840, in Tremelo, Belgium. He was the youngest of seven children of Joannes Franciscus De Veuster and Anne-Catherine Wouters. At the age of 13, he had to quit school to work on the family farm. His older sisters Eugénie and Pauline were nuns, and his older brother Auguste was a priest, Father Pamphile. In 1860, he was admitted to the religious profession. He was later sent on a mission to Hawaii as a replacement because Father Pamphile couldn’t go due to illness.
Father Damien arrived in Hawaii on March 19, 1864. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 21, 1864, at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. He was then assigned to a mission in North Kohala the following year. Around the time, the Hawaiian Kingdom was struggling with a labor shortage and health crisis. Many Hawaiians had a high mortality rate caused by infectious diseases. Leprosy was believed to be highly contagious. In 1866, the Hawaiian legislature designated Molokai as the site for a leper colony to quarantine people affected with leprosy.
Father Damien went to Kalaupapa, Molokai, and arrived on May 10, 1873. He was the first volunteer, among other priests, who arrived at the quarantined settlement. There, Damien worked with the people to build a church. Besides serving as a priest, he built a reservoir, homes, and furniture, made coffins, and dug graves. Damien cared for the lepers, established leaders to improve livelihood within the community, and lived with them as equals. He caught leprosy after 11 years of caring for them. Despite his illness, he continued with his work until he was bedridden on March 23, 1889. Father Damien died on April 15, 1889.
Father Damien Day timeline
Jozef De Veuster is born on January 3 in Tremelo, Belgium.
Father Damien is ordained to the priesthood on May 21 at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.
Father Damien arrives in Kalaupapa, Molokai, on May 10 to start the mission.
Father Damien or Saint Damien of Molokai dies on April 15.
Father Damien Day FAQs
Is leprosy still around?
Leprosy is no longer something to fear because it is rare today and also treatable.
What animal causes leprosy?
Leprosy, caused by bacteria, is known to be transmitted to humans from nine-banded armadillos.
Which king had leprosy in the Bible?
“Uzziah was struck with leprosy for disobeying God (2 Kings 15:5, 2 Chronicles 26:19–21).”
How to Observe Father Damien Day
Visit the churches
Two of the four churches built in Molokai by Father Damien are still standing. If possible, you may want to visit one or both of them. They are Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Church in Kalua'aha and St. Joseph Church in Kamalo.
Go see the Father Damien Statue
Father Damien Statue is located in front of the Hawaii State Capitol. If you are in Honolulu, go to see the statue to celebrate the day in honor of Father Damien.
Find volunteer opportunities
Father Damien is known for his help and care in Molokai for the people affected with leprosy. To commemorate him, look for volunteer opportunities near you and join one.
5 Facts About Molokai You Need To Know
It has tall sea cliffs
Kalaupapa Cliffs (3,315 feet), located in Molokai, are among the tallest sea cliffs in the world.
There’s a landmark that helps fertility
It is said that women who visit Phallic Rock will receive help in becoming pregnant from the male fertility god Nanahoa.
Hawaii’s longest pier is here
Hawaii’s longest pier is in Kaunakakai, the largest town in Molokai.
Hula originated here
Reportedly, hula (the dance form) originated in Molokai, although the Big Island, Oahu, and Kauai also claim to be the birthplace of hula.
There are no traffic lights here
There is very little traffic in Molokai, and there are no traffic lights, but there are a few stop signs.
Why Father Damien Day is Important
He’s a caring person
Father Damien cared for the sick and helped build homes, dig graves, and make coffins in Molokai. We can look up to him, especially those of us who are parents. Parents not only need to take care of themselves but also must take care of their children.
It’s a reminder to do good things
Father Damien Day can be a reminder for us to do good things while we can. It can be as simple as saying hi to the people you see on the street, with a smile on your face.
It’s a chance to volunteer
What Father Damien did in Molokai started as a voluntary act. Father Damien Day can be a chance for us who want to start making the world a better place by helping others in need.
Father Damien Day dates