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Here’s why Hawaii’s St. Damien got his May 10 feast day



Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 05/09/24

Damien of Molokai died on April 15, 1889, but his feast day isn't until May. Here's why.

Much beloved St. Damien of Molokai, who cared for those with leprosy in Hawaii, went to eternity on an April 15, in the year 1889.

Though the death date of a saint is customarily their feast day, there are a number of saints for which that is not the case. Often, diving into the date that is selected for their feast reveals something interesting.

For example, John Paul II’s feast day is the day he became pope. And the feast day of a number of married couples is their wedding anniversary (the Ulmas, Charles of Zita, the Martins, and the Quattrocchis). Paul VI’s feast is the anniversary of his ordination, and John XXIII’s on the day he launched Vatican II.

St. Damien is another to add to the list of saints with unique feasts.

April 15, his death date, often falls during Lent. So what happened on May 10, the day his feast is celebrated?

“I am willing to devote my life …”

A report in the Hawaii Catholic Herald notes:

May 10 was picked because it marks a significant event in the life of St. Damien de Veuster, a day on which he performed a particular act of supreme charity and selflessness that would ultimately lead to his canonization.

It was the day in 1873 … that he stepped onto the island of Molokai and made it both his life’s work and his death place.

Father Damien arrived with the bishop, Louis Maigret, stepping off the ship Kilauea onto Kalaupapa at around 11 a.m. It was a Saturday.

Bishop Maigret describes the event in his journal: “(We) visit the leprosarium (hospital) at Kalawao — enter the humble chapel recently erected by Br. Bertram — our poor neophytes come out in impressive enough numbers — I speak a few words to them — They seem happy to see us — Fr. Damien will remain some two weeks among them — a petition bearing 200 signatures is presented to us (me) they are asking that a priest remain permanently among them, but where is one to be found …”

The “two weeks” referred to an agreement to have four priests rotating the Kalaupapa assignment. Father Damien was the first.

However, two days later, Father Damien wrote, “I am willing to devote my life to the leprosy victims. It is absolutely necessary for a priest to remain here. The harvest is ripe.”

Father Damien remained with his new flock 16 years, until his death in 1889.

Damien of Molokai was beatified in 1995, and the bishop of Honolulu requested the US bishops to approve May 10 as his feast. They agreed and sought Vatican approval, which was eventually given.

In 2009, Fr. Damien was canonized. In Hawaii, his feast is an obligatory memorial, though not a holy day of obligation.

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