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The life of Father Damien


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Jan. 3, 1840 * Joseph De Veuster is born in Tremelo, Belgium, the seventh of eight children of Frans, a farmer-merchant, and Anne De Veuster.

Spring 1858 * At age 18 he rejects his parents' plan that he work on the family farm and joins the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, following his brother Pamphile.

Feb. 2, 1859 * He takes his first vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. He takes the name Damien, after a third-century Christian martyr and physician.

Oct. 7, 1860 * He makes his final vow at the Sacred Hearts mother house in Paris.

November 1863 * Pamphile, newly ordained, is assigned to the Hawaiian Islands mission. He becomes ill and Damien obtains permission to take his place.

March 19, 1864 * He arrives in Honolulu after a five-month voyage.

May 21, 1864 * He is ordained a Catholic priest in Our Lady of Peace Cathedral.

May 1864 * He is assigned to Puna, on the east side of Hawaii. Within a year he volunteers to change places with a less hearty priest, moving to the rugged northern side of the island. He spends nine years in Kohala and Hamakua, where he learns the Hawaiian language, builds churches and baptizes hundreds of people.

Jan. 3, 1865 * King Kamehameha V issues “;An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy,”; giving the Board of Health authority to examine suspected cases and exile “;incurable”; victims to Kalawao, the east side of the Kalaupapa peninsula.

Jan. 6, 1866 * The first patients are sent to Kalawao.

April 1873 * Catholic Bishop Louis Maigret asks for volunteer priests to serve in Kalawao. Damien volunteers for the first shift as pastor to banished patients.

May 10, 1873 *  Damien is 33 years old when he arrives at Kalawao. He sleeps

beneath a pandanus (hala) tree near the small wooden church built in 1872 by another priest and patients.

December 1884 *  He discovers he had contracted the disease when he spills scalding water on his foot and does not feel pain.

April 15, 1889 * Damien is 49 years old when he dies and is buried beside St. Philomena Church, near the pandanus tree, his first shelter.

Sept. 12, 1895 * Sister Simplicia Hue, a Sacred Hearts sister in France, near death after seven months with an intestinal disease, is cured overnight after praying for Damien to intercede with God to heal her.

January 1936 *  At the request of the Belgium government, his body is exhumed. It is taken by ship through the Panama Canal to Belgium. He is buried in a crypt at St. Joseph Chapel in Louvain.

1938 * Sacred Hearts officials decides to pursue sainthood for Damien, a process that languished for years because leaders wanted first to seek sainthood for founder Pierre Coudrin.

April 1955 * The Sacred Congregation of Rites in the Vatican discusses introduction of the cause for sainthood of Damien, finally beginning the internal process of scrutiny of the missionary's life.

July 7, 1977 * Pope Paul VI signs a decree declaring Damien to be “;venerable,”; a man of heroic virtue, the first step to sainthood. Before being named a saint, two miracles must be attributed to him.

Dec. 5, 1991 * A medical panel advising the Vatican Congregation on Causes of Saints accepts Sister Simplicia's spontaneous cure as a miracle.

Dec. 5, 1992 * Pope John Paul II approves the first miracle.

June 4, 1995 * Pope John Paul II declares Damien “;blessed”; in a ceremony in Brussels. He sends a relic of Damien, the bones of his right hand, home to be reburied in his Molokai grave.

December 1998 * Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Oahu resident Audrey Toguchi prays to Father Damien for healing. She experiences a “;complete spontaneous remission”; as documented in the Hawaii Medical Journal of October 2000.

April 2008 *  After panels of doctors and theologians scrutinize the case, the Vatican's Congregation for Causes of Saints accepts Toguchi's case as a miracle.

July 3, 2008 * Pope Benedict XVI approves the cure as a miracle.

Oct. 11, 2009 *  The pope will declare Father Damien De Veuster and four others saints in a ceremony at St. Peter's Square.