Our namesake at Damien Memorial School is Saint Damien De Veuster, the beloved Roman Catholic priest who devoted his life to caring for the most vulnerable of Hawaii’s population during the 19th Century.
A native of Belgium, Damien was ordained into the priesthood in 1864 in Honolulu. The following year he began ministering to parishioners on Hawaii Island by traveling great distances between the districts of Puna, Kohala and Hamakua.
In 1873, Father Damien made the fateful decision to join three other priests in volunteering to serve Hansen’s Disease victims confined to the Kalaupapa settlement on Molokai.
Over time, Father Damien helped transform Kalaupapa into a place to live rather than die. He joined his patients in building houses, constructing a water system and planting trees. He expanded St. Philomena Catholic Church and organized schools, bands and choirs. These efforts attracted worldwide attention, resulting in heightened awareness of Hansen’s Disease sufferers.
Twelve years after Father Damien began his ministry on Molokai, it was confirmed he had contracted the devastating disease. He died four years later at the age of 49 on April 15, 1889, with Mother Marianne Cope at his bedside.
In recognition of Damien’s selfless dedication to the sick and outcast, he was beatified in 1995 by Pope John Paul II. And in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Damien, thus making him Hawaii’s first saint.