> 150 Years Ago, St. Damien Arrived in Kalaupapa/Kalawao

150 Years Ago, St. Damien Arrived in Kalaupapa/Kalawao


By S. Alicia Damien Lau

Whereas, on May 10, 1873, Father Damien arrived in Moloka’i to provide spiritual services to the people of the isolated leper colony. Father Damien is remembered for going well beyond his priestly duties, serving the community as a carpenter, doctor, advocate, and trusted friend to all.”

This is part of the Proclamation by Governor Josh Green, MD, Governor, State of Hawaii, designating May 10, 2023, as a date chosen to signify a momentous event within the Saint’s life.

Celebrations commemorating the 150th Anniversary of St. Damien arriving in Kalaupapa took place at Damien’s Statue – Hawai’i State Capitol, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, St. Anthony’s Parish in Wailuku, Maui, where Damien said “yes” to going to Kalaupapa, and at St. Philomena Church in Kalawao where he ministered for 16 years.

The Kalawao celebration was simple, but the music S. Barbara Jean Wajda prepared filled the church with singing patients, staff, Bishop Silva and his five pilgrims. There was a relic of St. Damien on the altar, which the bishop used to bless the Congregation after liturgy.

Returning to Kalaupapa around noon, we all enjoyed the elaborate lunch Dr. Maria Devera brought to Kalaupapa. We ate at the pavilion and watched the beautiful calm ocean and the high sea cliffs while thinking of this peninsula surrounded by the ocean on three sides and high cliffs on the fourth side. An actual “prison” for those affected by the dreadful disease of leprosy; however, one patient told me years ago that it was worse than a prison. He said, “In prison, you have the chance to be paroled; here in Kalaupapa, you were sent to die.”

After lunch, some walked from the pavilion to St. Marianne’s grave while others rode; all ended up at St. Elizabeth Convent and Chapel. Fr. Ed Popish, SSCC, led a short prayer service using St. Damien’s words, followed by a visit to the Kalaupapa Bookstore. Then to the airport for their travel back to Honolulu.

I received many calls/text messages/emails during the day from California, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Tennessee, Belgium, etc., from the many friends thinking about Damien and remembering Kalaupapa. What a grand celebration!

“My greatest pleasure is to serve the Lord in his poor children rejected by other people.”                                                                                                  St. Damien DeVesture