In his own words


POSTED: Wednesday, October 07, 2009

December 25, 1858

From school in France, to his parents:

This great feast has brought me the certainty that God has called me to quit the world and embrace the religious state. Therefore, dear parents, I ask you again for your consent for without it I cannot venture to enter on this career. For you to hinder your child from following God's will would expose yourselves to terrible consequences from His anger, and would expose me to the irreparable misfortune of losing the vocation for which God has destined me from infancy.


October 12, 1869

From Kohala, to his parents:

In this last year I have built two new churches, one of which I have handed over to another priest together with half of my vast district. The last church I built is a fine-looking building with a nice little tower.

You must not be surprised, my dear father, that our natives here use neither spoons, no forks, neither tables nor chairs. It is the custom to eat with their fingers and to sit on the ground: but they have nice mats in their houses to sit on.

It is the same thing in the church. At first I made benches for them but they would not use them, and I find it much more economical.


November 25, 1873

From Kalawao, to his brother Pamphile:

God has deigned to choose me, your unworthy brother, to assist the poor people attacked by that terrible malady so often mentioned in the Gospel, leprosy.

Picture to yourself a collection of huts with eight hundred lepers. No doctor; in fact, as there is no cure, there seems no place for a doctor's skill. A white man who is a leper and your humble servant, do all the doctoring work.

Out of two thousand in all who have been sent here, some eight hundred are still living.

I have been here six months, surrounded by lepers, and I have not caught the infection.

Every morning ... I go to visit the sick, half of whom are Catholics. I begin by offering to hear their confession. Those who refuse this spiritual help are not therefore refused temporal assistance, which is given to all without distinction. Consequently every one, with the exception of a very few bigoted heretics, look on me as a father.

As for me, I make myself a leper with the lepers, to gain all to Jesus Christ. That is why in preaching, I say 'we lepers' not 'my brethren' as in Europe.

The average of deaths is about one every day. Many are so destitute that there is nothing to defray their burial expenses. They are simply wrapped in a blanket. As far as my duties allow me time, I make coffins myself for these people.


November 9, 1887

From Molokai, to his brother Pamphile:

As you know, a long time ago I myself have been chosen by Divine Providence as a victim to this loathsome disease. I hope to be eternally thankful to God for this favor.

Though leprosy has a pretty strong hold on my body, and has already disfigured me somewhat, I continue to be robust and strong. So far the disease has not distorted my hands and I continue to say Mass every day.


July 14, 1872

From Kohala, to his sister Pauline:

Visiting the sick is my chief daily task. Death carries off in these islands, more in a year than are brought into life. So the native population is continually diminishing.

I play the carpenter when necessary, and have a good deal of work in painting and decorating my chapels. In general I have much bother and little consolation, and it is only by God's grace that I find my yoke sweet and my burden light.


February 19, 1889

Damien's last letter to his brother Pamphile:

Considering the nature of the disease from which, by the will of God I am suffering, I abstain from writing to you as before, as well as to the rest of the family. Still I am quite happy and contented, and though seriously ill, all I desire is the accomplishment of the holy will of God.

The hospital contains more than a thousand lepers. (He listed the other two priests who were serving on the Kalaupapa peninsula, as well as two brothers and three Franciscan sisters.)

I am still able, but not without some difficulty, to stand every day at the altar where I do not forget any of you. Do you, in return, pray and get prayers for me, who am being gently drawn towards the grave. May God strengthen me and give me the grace of perseverance and of a happy death.