Feast of Sts. Damien and Marianne of Molokai (April 15)   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Marianne (Right) Standing Beside the Corpse of St. Damien

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT DAMIEN DE VEUSTER (JANUARY 3, 1840-APRIL 15, 1889)

Roman Catholic Missionary Priest

Born as Joseph de Veuster

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SAINT MARIANNE COPE (JANUARY 23, 1838-AUGUST 9, 1918)

Roman Catholic Nun

Born Maria Anna Barbara Koob

Roman Catholic feast day = January 23

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The Episcopal Church celebrates the lives of these two saints on April 15.  This joint commemoration is appropriate, given the overlapping of their lives and their work among lepers in Hawaii.

Joseph de Veuster, born in Belgium on January 3, 1840, came from a farming family.  A the age of 18 he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.  The following year he made vows and received the name Damien, after one half of the ancient team of physicians and martyrs Sts. Cosmas and Damian (died in 287).

The first case of Hansen’s Disease in Hawaii dated to 1840.  The number of cases increased during the ensuing years and so alarmed the royal government that the Kingdom of Hawaii established the leper colony on the remote island of Molokai in 1863.  Authorities forced anyone found to have the disease to live in the colony.  Residents of the colony, dropped off and abandoned, had to survive as best they could.  After they died, burial in shallow graves ensued.  Animals consumed their corpses.

1863 was also the year St. Damien arrived in Hawaii.  He went in lieu of his older brother, originally scheduled to make the journey, but who had fallen ill.  St. Damien, ordained to the priesthood in 1864, ministered among native Hawaiians, built chapels, and brought many people to Christ for nine years before he requested to become a missionary to the lepers of Molokai Island.  So it came to pass that, in 1873, our saint became priest to the lepers, whom he did not shun.  No, he provided for the spiritual and physical needs.  He built a church, dug deep graves, changed dressings, et cetera.  Eventually he became a leper himself; he joined the ranks of the pariahs, even in the eyes of his bishop.  Sister (also St.) Marianne Cope met him in 1884 and became his sole caregiver two years later.

Maria Anna Barbara Koob, born in Heppenheim, Hesse, in January 23, 1838, emigrated to the United States and settled in Utica, New York, with her family the following year.  Her parents anglicized the family name to Cope.  When Maria Anna was a child her father became an invalid, so she had to work, to help to support her family.  After her family died in 1862, Maria Anna joined the Sisters of Saint Francis at Syracuse, New York, becoming Sister Marianne.  In 1870 she became a nurse administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Syracuse.  She admitted even socially undesirable patients, such as alcoholics.  Some criticized her for doing this.

St. Marianne arrived in Hawaii in 1883.  She had volunteered after reading a plea for people to work with lepers.  Immediately she became the supervisor of the receiving center for all lepers in the Kingdom of Hawaii.  Later she opened a care center for lepers’ healthy children.  And, from 1886 to 1889, she was the sole caregiver of St. Damien.

Toward the end of his life St. Damien experienced physical, emotional, and spiritual distress.  He had ministered to lepers as long as he could, but eventually he ceased to be physically capable of doing so.  He even became a pariah to his bishop.  At least St. Damien had caregivers, including St. Marianne, so he knew he was not abandoned.  St. Damien died on April 15, 1889.  He was 49 years old.

From 1889 to 1918 St. Marianne continued her work with Hawaiian lepers.  To be precise, she operated a series of homes for young lepers.  She died of natural causes on August 9, 1918, aged 80 years.

Pope John Paul II beatified St. Damien in 1995.  Pope Benedict XVI canonized the priest in 2009.

Pope Benedict XVI beatified St. Marianne in 2005.  Pope Francis canonized her in 2012.

As I ponder the lives of these saints, I conclude that a few lines of verse apply well:

The peace of God, it is no peace,

but strife closed in the sod.

Yet let us pray for but one thing–

the marvelous peace of God.

–William Alexander Percy, “They Cast Their Nets in Galilee,” in The Hymnal 1982 (1985), #661

Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Sometimes obeying that order places one in peril and at least leads to the possibility of an unpleasant demise.  Those who answer that call readily put the rest of us to shame.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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God of compassion, we bless your Name for the ministries of Damien and Marianne,

who ministered to the lepers abandoned at Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands.

Help us, following their examples, to be bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time,

that your people may live in health and hope; through Jesus Christ, who with

you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 57:14-19

Psalm 103:13-22

1 Corinthians 4:9-13

Matthew 11:1-6

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 329

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