Read: "Why Saint Damien inspires us to love the most rejected" by Michael Andrews, Chancellor of the Diocese of Lansing

Today is the Feast of Saint Damien, the 19th century Belgian missionary priest who sacrificed his health and, ultimately, his life to care for the lepers on the Kalaupapa Peninsula of Molokaʻi, Hawaii.

“Saint Damien offered himself as an apostle to lepers, eventually contracting the disease himself. He befriended the most outcast, and took on their condition. He revealed the living presence of Christ to his brothers and sisters,” says Michael Andrews, Chancellor of the Diocese of Lansing, May 10.

“Saint Damien’s tremendous generosity of spirit challenges us today to heroism in our own lives: Seek God’s kingdom first. Love each person, particularly the most rejected, with the same love we have received from Christ.”

Born into a poor, Belgian farming family in 1840, Father Damien was born Joseph De Veuster. He left school at 13 to work on his parent’s farm. Six years later, Joseph joined his brother in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, taking the name Damien.

His life of mission began in 1864, when he volunteered to take his brother’s place as a missionary on the Hawaiian Islands. For several years, Damien served on Honolulu until the Bishop asked for volunteers to serve the quarantined lepers on Moloka'i.

In 1873, at the request of the bishop, Damien left for Moloka'i where he took up residence and served as an advocate for the lepers. Father Damien became known as the “leper priest.” He devoted his life to care for their physical, medical, and spiritual needs, and built houses, a church, a school and an orphanage. A leprosy sufferer once wrote, “He overwhelms us with his care, and he himself builds our houses.”

After finally contracting leprosy himself, Damien died five years later in 1889, giving his life to the people he volunteered to serve. He was canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Father Damien’s example of self-sacrifice and Christ-like care for the sick make him a saint for our times.

After Hawaii became a state in 1959, Saint Damien was chosen to be one of the representatives for the state in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

Saint Damien of Moloka’i, pray for us!