The Papal Artifacts’ Collection is primarily dedicated to artifacts connected to the papacy. Individual popes, their biographies and multiple items belonging to them, including first and second class relics, make up the majority of this Collection. But that isn’t all it is.
Father Kunst has a deep devotion to the saints as can be readily seen in viewing the Saints & Blesseds section of this site. We invite you to visit Papal History/Saints & Blesseds to view the many canonized and beatified men and women who make up this section of the Collection.
Saint Damien of Molokai is one of them
Every age has its stories of heroic men and women whose faith challenges them to reach out in heroic love and service to alleviate the sufferings of their brothers and sisters.
This is the story of one such hero. He was born Joseph De Veuster, a Belgian farm boy. He is known now to all the world as Damien the Leper. His bronze figure graces the statuary hall in Washington, D.C.
Damien’s compassion for the lepers led him to spend sixteen years in the “living graveyard that was Molokai,” where he died at the age of forty-nine in service to people suffering from the terrible disease of leprosy.
Damien never lost sight of his life’s purpose, despite the many difficulties and sufferings he bore. It was only his faith that enabled him to endure the trials that his life’s work caused him.
We hope that you enjoy this story and find it a source of strength and encouragement.
The Letter of St. Damien, Written Entirely in His Own Hand
The artifact presented here is known to be excessively rare given the contagious illness St. Damien contracted four years before his death. The fact that St. Damien was canonized on October 11, 2009, by Pope Benedict XVI, makes this letter, not only rare, but a sacred item of a canonized saint. It is an exceedingly rare and treasured part of the Papal Artifacts’ Collection.
The Stations of the Cross Will Be Received with Many Thanks: The Saint Damien of Molokai Letter
Damien, Father Joseph Damien de Veuster, a Belgian Catholic missionary to the leper colony in Molokai, Hawaii, joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1840. He served as a missionary in the islands of Hawaii for several years before volunteering to serve the lepers on Molokai in 1865. For eleven years Damien ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of the colony, helping them to build cottages and roads. He contracted leprosy in 1884, dying from its ravages four years later.
This letter, known in the world of collecting, is an ALS: an autographed letter, signed, is the concluding page of a three page letter, signed, “J. Damien Deveuster.” There is no date but it is probably after he had contracted leprosy.
The letter was written to Edward Clifford, an accomplished artist from England. He visited Damien in December 1888 and rendered several sketches of the dying priest. The letter concerns the Stations of the Cross that were being given to the Catholic church on Molokai where Damien lived at the leper colony established there.
Contents of the Letter
“On your arrival in Honolulu, you will first make acquaintance with the members of the Board of Health. And by gaining their Confidence you will easily obtain permission to come and pass here a few weeks. You do not need to hire a schooner in which to make your home. A special home for receiving visitors will be willingly put at your disposal and you will find our new doctor, Dr. Swift, a good-hearted Irishman!! When you write to our friend Chapman, please give him my thanks for his kindness towards me. Our workmen are now covering in our church. The Stations of the Cross will be received with many thanks. If you bring any value with you for the church, please deposit it at Bishopham to my credit or if I am no more on this world, at the Catholic Mission in Honolulu…with the hope of our soon meeting here, J. Damien Deveuster.”
In Word Shadows of the Great, Thomas Madigan writes, “Without doubt Damien wrote few letters and it is not unlikely that many of those which come from his pen during the leper colony days were destroyed by the recipient.” He adds that he had owned the only two know letters by Damien. I must agree that Damien can be considered excessively rare. I can find no record of sales, at any rate, in auction or dealer catalogs for the past ten years. This letter is used to illustrate Damien’s autograph in Ray Rawlin’s Stein and Day Book of World Autographs.
St. Damien of Molokai
Damien de Veuster, the Apostle of the Lepers, was a Belgian priest, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It was under the auspices of this missionary order that in March, 1864 Damien went to Hawaii, then still an independent kingdom, where shortly afterwards he was ordained. The first European contact with Hawaii had come only in 1778, and in its wake came a series of diseases hitherto unknown on the islands that led to the deaths of thousands. Among these diseases was leprosy. In 1865, Hawaii’s lepers were quarantined in two remote settlements on the island of Molokai. Within a few years, both had degenerated into near chaos, the government unwilling to provide sufficient food and medical aid, the lepers unable to help themselves. The French vicar apostolic of Hawaii,in effect bishop of the islands, realized that at the very least a priest should be nominated to tend to the victims’ spiritual needs. Damien volunteered. He arrived at the colony in May 1873. His presence almost immediately had as much practical as spiritual effect, bringing order and cohesion. Crops were planted, farms reorganized, and schools and a church built. Perhaps inevitable, in 1884 Damien himself contracted the disease and he died from its complications.
Damien was canonized on October 11, 2009 in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI.
Saint Damien, pray for us!