April 15: Damien & Marianne of Molokai, Priest & Leper, 1889, Religious, 1918

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Joseph de Veuster was born in 1840 in Belgium, the son of a farmer. At the age of 18, he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He made his first vows in 1859 and took the name Damien, after the ancient physician and martyr. When his older brother became ill and was unable to join the mission endeavor in Hawaii, Damien volunteered to take his place.

As Father Damien began his ministry in Hawaii, leprosy was spreading rapidly throughout the Islands. In 1863, King Kamehameha V ordered those with leprosy to be sent to Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on the northern coast of Molokai. There, on the side of the peninsula known as Kalawao, those afflicted by the disease were left with no aid.

Damien was among the first priests to arrive in Kalawao, and he remained there for the rest of his life, building houses, an orphanage, a church, and a hospital. He ate with those he served, worshipped with them, and invited them into his home. He eventually contracted leprosy, later known as Hansen’s disease, and died in 1889.

Like Father Damien, Marianne Cope aspired to the religious vocation at an early age.  She entered the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, New York, in 1862, and in 1870 she began work as a nurse administrator at St. Joseph’s hospital in Syracuse, where she was criticized for accepting alcoholics and other undesirable patients.

In 1883, she received a letter from a priest in Hawaii asking for help managing the hospitals and ministry to leprosy patients. She arrived in Honolulu in 1883 and immediately took over supervision of the Kaka’ako Branch Hospital, which served as a receiving center for leprosy patients from all over the islands. She also opened a care center for the healthy children of leprosy victims.

In 1884, she met Father Damien, and in 1886, she alone ministered to him when his illness made him unwelcome among church and government leaders. She continued her work with hospitals and sufferers of Hansen’s disease until her death in 1918.


I  God of compassion, we bless thy Name for the ministries of Damien and Marianne, who ministered to the lepers abandoned on Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. Help us, following their examples, to be bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time, that thy people may live in health and hope; through Jesus Christ,who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II   God of compassion, we bless your Name for the ministries of Damien and Marianne, who ministered to the lepers abandoned on Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. Help us, following their examples, to be bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time, that your people may live in health and hope; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Isaiah 57:14–19

1 Corinthians 4:9–13

Matthew 11:1–6

Psalm 103:13-22

Preface of a Saint (1)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

23 thoughts on “April 15: Damien & Marianne of Molokai, Priest & Leper, 1889, Religious, 1918

  1. Holy Women, Holy Men opens new worlds to me. The pictures you provide deepen the experience. Thank you.

  2. Collect. ‘incurable plagues of our time’ The first one that comes to mind is HIV/AIDS.
    Another phrase would seem more appropriate. We will cure the so-called ‘incurable plagues’. ‘… that your people may live in health and hope …’ There is hope even when death is inevitable. I think the conjunction of health and hope is unfortunate.

    Bio. They need ‘who are they’ and ‘why are they important’ statements.
    1st paragraph, 2nd line: It is the Congregation of the Sacred Heart, not Hearts! 🙂

  3. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (title, lessons, and Proper Preface) are new.

  4. Are there any men and women, connected with the people who were quarantined with Hansen’s at Penikese isalnd off of Cape Cod until the 1930’s, or at the government facility in Louisiana (now closed) , whom you might want to consider?

  5. “Priest and Leper”: “Julius Caesar, Senator and Epileptic.” How about “ministers to lepers” or even (as the Catholic Encyclopedia dubbed Damien) “Apostles of the Lepers.”

  6. I agree about “incurable plagues” it seems simultaneously too veiled and too pointed, as though the collect wants us to focus on AIDS without coming out and saying it.

  7. “incurable plagues of our time, that your people may live in health”

    Doesn’t “live in health” have the rug pulled out by “incurable”?

  8. While reading this bio. I am reminded of George Orwell’s essay which included this “rule:” “Never use a long word when a short one will do.” This is especially true of the first sentence of the fourth paragraph about Marianne Cope (or Maria Anna Barbara Koob)-“aspired to a religious vocation.” What is wrong with: wished to become a nun?

    The bio and collects seem to perpetuate a fear of leprosy which never was accurate and now frankly misleading, even if leprosy is meant as a metaphor for HIV/AIDS. Though recognition of leprosy can be traced to ancient writings, understanding the disease did not occur until the late 19th century and effective treatment did not become available until the mid-20th century. The current three drug treatment regimen of dapsone-rifampicin-clofazimine was did not become the standard recommended by WHO until 1981. Though leprosy or Hansen’s Disease is infectious, cause by the Mycobacterium leprae organism,it is not particularly infectious. It takes months to years of exposure before someone who is susceptible to leprosy actually gets the disease. In fact, most people ( about 95%) who encouter the disease are immune to it. The mode of transmission of leprosy is still a matter of debate though person-to-person transmission by nasal discharge is assumed to be how the disease is spread. There are a couple of monkeys and an armadillo which can carry leprosy. Leprosy is not a sexually transmitted disease and it is not a blood borne disease either.

    So, “incurable plagues of our time” is a really unfortunate phrase.

    • “aspired to a religious vocation” is a very common phrase to describe the journey to become a member of a religious order. IMHO there is nothing fancy about using this phrase in this bio. Would that more of the baptized would ‘aspire to a religious vocation’ as a professed monastic.

      • I realize that the phrase “aspired to a religious vocation” is commonplace. But, forgive me, though I suspect I am not alone in this sentiment, I find the term “cringeworthy.” I am sure that is because it is a common phrase and therefore I suggest writing out the sentiment in words less stale and overused.

  9. I agree with all who find “incurable plagues…” unfortunate. Many “plagues” are now curable; others, though not curable (yet), are effectively treatable.

    I’m curious about “In 1863 King Kamehameha V ordered those with leprosy to be sent to Kalaupapa…” According to our own bio for November 28, King K. IV died in 1864, although another source I checked put his death at the end of 1863. K. V (K. IV’s older brother) succeeded to the throne. It’s my impression that K. IV and Emma were much more kindly disposed to the sick, including sufferers from Hansen’s disease. A little more clarity and consistency would be desirable.

    I don’t think we can completely avoid the use of the word “leprosy” (i.e., Hansen’s disease) in this context, but I suggest we be more careful and sensitive about its use. “Ministered to the lepers” in the collect is a little tacky. “Ministry to leprosy patients” in the bio is a little better, I think.

  10. Damien & Marianne of Molokai, Priest & Leper, 1889, Religious, 1918
    > The wording of the title sounds weird, “Priest & Leper.” If he’s not included simply because he was ordained, he certainly wasn’t included simply because he contracted leprosy.
    > I am gratified the ampersands are not used in the print edition.
    > What makes “of Molokai” part of their title? It’s one of the details in the narrative.
    > Their names exhibit slightly heterogeneous nomenclature. Damien is a “religious” name, but I believe his last name still applies. Marianne Cope retains both her given and surname. Why don’t they each have last names (like most modern westerners in this book), followed by initials of the religious order of each?
    Paragraph 1: Clear and succinct. Thank you.
    Paragraph 2: Uncharacteristically, for this book, “Father” appears repeatedly through the narrative. (This may reflect a Roman Catholic source.) Style books often recommend identifying someone fully only once, thereafter naming individuals only by last name (as with yesterday’s two bishops). Referring to him as Damien in the remainder of the article would conform to this norm.
    Paragraph 3: “Among the first priests” raises my curiosity about the scope of this ministry; Damien and Maryanne were not the sole responders. (Enquiring minds want to know!)
    >I would appreciate knowing if he died from Hansen’s disease and, even if not, whether Hansen’s is a terminal disease in itself, or if it is considered “incurable” (since the collect uses that word).
    Paragraph 4: Subordinating Marianne Cope to Damien by beginning the sentence comparing their youthful “aspiration” (as if being a baptized Christian were NOT in itself a religious vocation!) seems undesirable and unnecessary. Why not simply begin it, “Maryanne Cope entered the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, New York, in 1862, etc….”?
    > I see no reason for ending the paragraph with, “where she was criticized for accepting alcoholics and other undesirable patients.” For one thing, it could be inferred that WE concede such are “undesirables,” and for another, we see her sympathies perfectly well without noting this predilection (amounting to gossip), since her compassionate character is reflected in her life’s engagement with leper ministry! Who cares if someone complained? (Don’t they all!) Delete the criticism line. It makes her sound as if she went to Hawaii out of bitterness, spite, self-pity, or professionally shamed!
    Paragraph 5: Receiving a letter hardly seems worth mentioning, especially when its upshot is in the second sentence. (Omit the first sentence.)
    > If the letter in sentence 1 were from Damien, say so in the new lead sentence (nothing now indicates so, and there were other possibilities, so it seems doubtful it was from him).
    Paragraph 6: Remove the commas after 1884 and 1886 as unnecessary. Also, something about “she alone ministered to him” sounds fishy, but I don’t have facts to argue. Be sure it’s not just legendary “enhancement,” if we maintain that claim.
    READINGS: The gospel is the best of the selections. Verse 1 doesn’t carry any apparent connection with the other verses, but generally it’s a good reading with its focus on the signs of the messiah’s presence blessing and redeeming God’s needy people.
    The epistle doesn’t “appeal” to me, but that may speak more to my limitation as a hearer than indicate its failing as a selection. My reactivity is in trying to apply it to the commemoration, wondering if it is chosen to suggest the sister and priest are “become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things,” or if it suggests the lepers are rubbish (or are treated as such). The lepers, although treated terribly, certainly aren’t so in the sense of the passage. The church’s ministers seem to qualify by virtue of being the “fools” referred to (by worldly measure. It struck me as sad that this was the angle chosen for a reading, true though it may be. Perhaps naively, I would have wished it to be of a community exhibiting a level of mutual compassion and care in the face of some major difficulty or catastrophe. I won’t try to find a substitute; I’m willing to accept this one as a challenge to nudge my faith deeper.
    The OT lesson, on the other hand, seems wrong. God is “high and lofty” and also with the “contrite and humble.” It sounds good, but these “contrite” are the exiles, completing their long years of punishment for the nation’s apostasy and disobedience: “17 Because of their wicked covetousness I was angry; I struck them, I hid and was angry; but they kept turning back to their own [sinful] ways.” Now ready for rapprochement, and judging the people are duly disciplined (taught the needed lesson) God offers healing. This can’t be a good choice of reading for a commemoration involving lepers – unless we share the idea that illness (leprosy in this context) is God’s intentional retaliation for sin. Granted, this is not uncommon thinking, but it is certainly far from a Christian choice of self-revelation of God’s relation to victims of illness — particularly in light of the gospel selection! Naaman’s leprosy in 2 Kings 5 is a long story, but it doesn’t victimize lepers: consider using part of that story.
    The Psalm 103 portion is appropriate enough, but not as a response to the wrong OT lesson. Psalm 70 is a plea for help, without the triumphant assumption so common at the end of many laments. I’d recommend it over 103, even though I can’t know which OT lesson might be ultimately selected.
    CONCLUSION: I think this narrative is a model of clear, straightforward presentation, and my critical comments are relatively minor. I’m grateful for it. I addressed the collect in a prior comment. It needs work. The readings, except for the OT lesson, are apt, and Psalm 103, even though acceptable, could better be replaced with 70.

    • Despite my opening comment on paragraph 4, I just realized there is birth and family background about Damien, but no parallel birth or family background about Marianne. We shouldn’t slight her this way.

  11. The subtitle is most unsatisfactory. Damien isn’t honored because he was a priest or because he was a leper; Marianne is not honored because she was a religious. I suggest “Caregivers to Lepers, 1889, 1918”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: substitute “Jozef De” for “Joseph de”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: substitute “at Tremeloo, Belgium, on January 3,” for “in”.

    Line 5, third paragraph: substitute “at Kalawao on April 15,” for “in”

    Line 3, fourth paragraph: substitute “Born in Heppenheim, (now in Germany), on January 23, 1838, she” for “She”.

    Line 2, fourth paragraph: add “the Order of” after “entered”.

    Line 4, sixth paragraph: substitute “on January 9,” for “in”

  12. Just wondering about cause of Marianne’s death? Not vital information, I suppose, but given her proximity to contagious illness, and her courage and faithfulness, I am curious.

    • According to the website http://blessedmariannecope.org/quotes_note.html, Mother Marianne died from heart and kidney disease at aged 80 years. She would appear to be one of the majority of persons who was not susceptible to getting leprosy.

      Leprosy is rarely lethal. Even in the days before effective antibiotic treatment. most persons died from other diseases than leprosy though they might died indirectly from leprosy.. People with untreated leprosy died from bacterial pneumonia and other infections for which there are now effective antibiotic treatment, kidney disease caused in part by the chronic inflammation of leprosy (amyloid), heart disease also probably linked to chronic inflammation, accidental injury and other diseases including cancer. Now with effecitve antibiotic therapy, peole die from complications from the drug therapy. Apparently suicide was and is a significant cause of death among those with leprosy. Accidental injory as a result of blindness or the loss of sensation cause of leprosy infection of nerves still remains a problem in areas which leprosy is treated late in the course of the illness.

      • Why is there not an edit button but those of us who are typing imparied? “Cause of” should be ’caused by” AND “which” should be “where.” “Areas” means places such as India where leprosy in still endemic. Even though leprosy is transmitted human to human, it can probably never be eradicated like small pox because there is an animal resevoir for the disease.

  13. Thank you Suzanne for the word ‘cringeworthy’, which does indeed apply here as in so many other places in HWHM. I’ve used the word ‘cheesy’ in some posts, which I realised later probably sounded harsher than I wanted to–‘cringeworthy’ is much better. Clear, simple language is what is needed in liturgy—it is the setting in worship that turns it into majestic prose.

  14. […] God of compassion, we bless your Name for the ministries of Damien and Marianne, who ministered to the lepers abandoned on Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. Help us, following their examples, to be bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time, that your people may live in health and hope; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Learn about Father Damien and Sister Marianne. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s