Damien the Leper
Joseph de Veuster was born in Belgium in 1840. He joined the Congregation of Sacred Hearts at the age of eighteen, and volunteered to be a missionary to the Sandwich Islands and later, Hawaii. Joseph became Father Damien when he was ordained in Honolulu in 1864. After working for eight years on the big island of Hawai'i, Father Damien volunteered to serve the people of the leper colony on Moloka'i.
Leprosy had reached near-epidemic proportions in the Hawaiian Islands. Authorities established a leper colony on the remote island of Moloka'i to which anyone with leprosy was banished. Living conditions were hideous for the patients who were treated as social outcasts.
Damien worked with patients to build houses, plant trees, organize a social life as part of caring for their spiritual needs. He had a church and cemetery built. He lived and worked alongside the patients, saying "I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all for Christ." Because of his efforts, others offered help, resources, a hospital, education for the people on Moloka'i.
In 1884, Father Damien contracted leprosy. In his last years, he suffered from pain and disfigurement. On April 15, 1889 Damien died of leprosy.