The man who would become St. Damien of Molokai, was born in rural Belgium, on January 3, 1840. His name was Jozef De Veuster, and he was the youngest of seven children. Growing up on the farm, Jozef was prepared to take over for his family, but he did not want the responsibility. Instead, he wanted to follow his older brother and two sisters who took religious vows.
Jozef attended school until the age of 13 when his help was needed on the family farm full-time. He aided his family until he was old enough to enter the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He took the name Damien, after a sixth century martyr.
In 1864, Damien’s brother who was also in the same order of religious, was ordered to Hawaii. But his brother became ill, so Br. Damien offered to go in his place.
The brothers worried that Br. Damien was too uneducated to become a priest, although he was not considered unintelligent. Br. Damien demonstrated his ability by quickly learning Latin from his brother. He was also devoted in prayer, Br. Damien prayed each day before an icon of Saint Francis Xavier to be sent on a mission.
Eventually, his religious brothers agreed to send him and have him ordained.
Br. Damien arrived in Hawaii in March 1864, and was ordained as a priest on the island of Hawaii two months later. For nine years, he worked on the island as a priest, leading an important, yet undistinguished life.
In 1866, Hawaii established a leper colony on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. It was still mistakenly believed that leprosy was highly contagious. This belief resulted in the forced quarantine of leprosy patients.
These people still needed spiritual and medical care, so to Fr. Damien discerned his call to serve them. In 1873, Fr. Damien made the trip to be with these people in their colony.
Learn more on St. Damien of Molokai: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=2817