Biography

Father Damien

St. Damien of Moloka'i

Joseph de Veuster, later to be known as Saint Damien of Moloka'i, was born on January 3, 1840, in the small town of Tremelo in Belgium, the seventh of eight children of Frans and Anne Catherine de Veuster.

Joseph's father was a farmer-merchant and expected his son to take over the family business.  Muscular, strong and energetic, the young Joseph had the physical qualifications for the farming life, but not the heart.  Two older sisters and one older brother had joined the religious life and Joseph wanted to follow their footsteps.

Joseph's sisters Eugenic and Pauline had become Ursuline nuns and his brother Auguste had entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Perpetual Devotion of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

At 18, Joseph joined Auguste in his order at Louvain, Belgium (Leuven in Dutch).  Auguste had taken the religious name Pamphile.  On February 2, 1859, Joseph made his first vows and took the name Damien after the ancient physician and martyr.

Saint Damien embraced the religious life with enthusiasm, taking his final vows on October 7, 1860, at the Sacred Heart's Motherhouse on Rue Picpus in Paris and receiving his minor orders in 1863.
Father Damien
That year, the newly-ordained Father Pamphile was supposed to join a group of priests and nuns going to the Sacred Hearts mission in Hawaii, but fell ill.  Saint Damien volunteered and received permission to take his brother's place.

On March 19, 1864, after a five-month voyage, Saint Damien arrived at Honolulu in the Kingdom of Hawaii.  After two months of studies, he was ordained on May 21 a priest at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace Honolulu in downtown Honolulu.

Saint Damien was assigned, with the also newly ordained Father Clement Evrard, to the Big Island of Hawai'i.  His first "parish" was in Puna, an area on the island's east side.  Before a year was out, he had exchanged districts with Father Clement, moving to the larger and more rugged northern regions of Kohala and Hamakua.

Saint Damien spent almost 10 years on the Big Island endearing himself to the Hawaiian people with his friendliness, vigor and enthusiasm.  He learned their language, shared their food, and traversed their land, while building churches, spreading the Gospel, and baptizing hundreds.