North Kohala Mission, Hawaii
Blessed Damien was ordained a priest in 1864 and was sent to the North Kohala Mission. During this time, Hawaii was devastated by diseases brought on ships from foreign countries. The people of Hawaii were afflicted with syphilis, influenza, and leprosy. Thousands of native people died from these foreign diseases.
Blessed Damien Missionary to Lepers
The lepers were banished to settlements on the east side of Molokai for fear of spreading the disease to the rest of the native people. A high mountain range divided the leper colony from the rest of the peninsula. The lepers suffered in isolation with inadequate medical supplies, food, and water.
Disregarding his own well-being, Blessed Damien of Molokai was the first priest to volunteer to begin a mission in the leper colony. Three other priests also volunteered, and in May of 1873, they traveled to the leper colony in Kalaupapa. At the time, 816 lepers resided in Kalaupapa.
Blessed Damien changed the bandages of the lepers, built extra beds, housing, coffins, and dug the graves for the dead onto of his priestly duties. He organized the lepers so they could grow their own food, built schools for the leper children, and started the Parish of Saint Philomena.
Blessed Damien of Molokai Contracts Leprosy
In 1884, Blessed Damien discovered he had leprosy when he put his foot in bath water so hot that it caused blisters, yet he could not feel it. In spite of the disease, Blessed Damien worked diligently to continue caring for the lepers and erect more homes for them. He wanted to complete as much work as possible before becoming too ill to continue.