On January 3, 1840, Jozef de Veuster was born in the village of Tremelo in Belgium. He took the name Damianus when he became a novice in the order of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (also known as Picpus Fathers) in Leuven, Belgium. In 1860 he became a full member of the order. This congregation sent missionaries to work on some islands in the Pacific Ocean since 1827. Father Damien, as he was known, was sent to Hawaii, where he worked in a colony for sufferers of Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, on the island of Molokai. He spent the rest of his life there working to alleviate suffering and died of the same disease on April 15, 1889. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and is now referred to as Saint Damien.
There are two identical bronze statues in Father Damien’s honor, which were designed by the sculptor Marisol Escobar and unveiled in 1969. One forms the centerpiece of the entrance to the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu and the other is in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol, Washington, DC.
On April 15, 1889, Father Damien died of Hansen’s disease on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. He was a man who cared for sufferers of this disease and continued his missionary work on this island. People in Hawaii remember his life and deeds on April 15, the anniversary of his death. Father Damien was originally buried on Molokai and his grave there is a site of devotion. In 1936, he body was returned to Belgium and he is now buried in Belgium, close to where he was born. His religious symbols are a tree and a dove and he is a spiritual patron for people living with HIV.
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