Father Damien or Saint Damien of Molokai, SS.CC. or Saint Damien De Veuster (Dutch: Pater Damiaan or Heilige Damiaan van Molokai; 3 January 1840 – 15 April 1889), born Jozef De Veuster, was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium and member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a missionary religious institute. He was recognized for his ministry, which he led from 1873 until his death in 1889, in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi for people with leprosy (Hansen’s disease), who lived in government-mandated medical quarantine in a settlement on the Kalaupapa Peninsula of Molokaʻi.
During this time, he taught the Catholic faith to the people of Hawaii. Father Damien also cared for the patients himself and established leadership within the community to build houses, schools, roads, hospitals, and churches. He dressed residents’ ulcers, built a reservoir, made coffins, dug graves, shared pipes, and ate poi by hand with them, providing both medical and emotional support.
After eleven years caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony, Father Damien contracted leprosy. He continued with his work despite the infection but finally succumbed to the disease on 15 April 1889.
Father Damien has been described as a “martyr of charity“. Damien De Veuster is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church. In the Anglican Communion, as well as other Christian denominations, Damien is considered the spiritual patron for leprosy and outcasts. Father Damien Day, 15 April, the day of his death, is also a minor statewide holiday in Hawaii. Father Damien is the patron saint of the Diocese of Honolulu and of Hawaii.
Father Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on 11 October 2009. Libert H. Boeynaems, writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia, calls him “the Apostle of the Lepers.” Damien De Veuster’s feast day is 10 May.