We all aspire to be heroes. But as Christians, our goal is so much more than being a hero in the eyes of the world. We strive to become saints—like St. Damien de Veuster—who build a culture of life in our society. St. Damien served the lepers of the Hawaiian Islands for 16 years, giving up his life and his health in order to provide comfort to the most hated and feared people in society.
Leprosy is a debilitating and disfiguring disease that spread rapidly through the Hawaiian Islands during the 1800s. Unable to treat the disease, government authorities sent the afflicted to a desolate peninsula on the Island of Molokai where they lived in total isolation from the rest of society. With little food, supplies, or medical care, the suffering lepers lost all hope and turned to vice as a way to assuage their pain.
It would have been sufficient for Fr. Damien to just help the lepers build homes and to restore a sense of morality to their society, but he went further. Fr. Damien aligned himself with them, often using the term “we lepers” to show a common brotherhood. He cared for both the spiritual and physical needs of the lepers and never shied away from treating them with respect and dignity. Fr. Damien taught the lepers to have a sense of personal worth and to remember the inestimable value of the human person.
Saints go beyond exciting deeds and great accomplishments. The life of a saint is built upon the recognition that nothing in this world is meant to last forever and that eternal life is what matters most. St. Damien of Molokai was a hero for agreeing to work among the lepers on the miserable island of Molokai, but he was a saint for embracing his cross of suffering and dying in the service of those who needed him most.
Our 5th-6th grade lesson entitled When Heroes Become Saints: Saint Damien de Veuster of Molokai challenges students to think about the outcasts whom they encounter in their own lives—a teased fellow student, a lonely relative, an argumentative sibling—and how they can follow the example of St. Damien by reaching out to them.
We celebrate St. Damien’s feast day on May 10.
Laura Kizior is the Digital Media and Communciations Manager for the Culture of Life Studies Program. Her work has appeared on Verily.com, CatholicMom.com, LifeSiteNews.com, Celebrate Life Magazine, TeachersSavingChildren.org, and in the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance newsletter.