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Father Damien

joseph DE Veuster) (1840-1889. Roman Catholic missionary priest. Born in Tremelo, Belgium, he was trained for the priesthood by the Fathers of the Sacred Heart (Picpus Fathers) at Louvain and Paris, and took the religious name of Damien. He was sent in 1864 to Honolulu to be ordained as a missionary in the Sandwich Islands. He served at Puna and Kohala on the island of Hawaii. In the 1860s the government decided to use the island of Molokai as an isolation settlement for lepers, but made no provision for permanent medical staff. In 1873 Damien heard of the lepers' plight and was allowed to join them. The colony thereafter increased to over 1,000. He undertook the duties of nurse, builder, superintendent, as well as priest. By his own labors and by pressure on the authorities he created a well-ordered community. By 1885 he knew that he had leprosy, yet continued to serve the lepers right up to his death. His growing fame in the outside world made him many admirers, but also created hostility among local officials and the Catholic hierarchy on the islands. The most famous defense of his character came from Robert Louis Stevenson in 1905.