A Few Minutes with a Saint & Father Richard Kunst
A Feature of Papal Artifacts/Saints & Blesseds
Fr. Damien of Molokai’i
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 known 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.
In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared Father Damien to be venerable. On 4 June 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified him and gave him his official spiritual title of Blessed. On 20 December 1999, Jorge Medina Estévez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, confirmed the November 1999 decision of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to place Blessed Damien on the liturgical calendar with the rank of optional memorial. Father Damien was canonized on 11 October 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. His feast day is celebrated on 10 May. In Hawaii it is celebrated on the day of his death, 15 April.
Two miracles have been attributed to Father Damien’s posthumous intercession. On 13 June 1992, Pope John Paul II approved the cure of a nun in France in 1895 as a miracle attributed to Venerable Damien’s intercession. In that case, Sister Simplicia Hue began a novena to Father Damien as she lay dying of a lingering intestinal illness. It is stated that pain and symptoms of the illness disappeared overnight.
In the second case, Audrey Toguchi, a Hawaiian woman who suffered from a rare form of cancer, had remission after having prayed at the grave of Father Damien on Molokaʻi. There was no medical explanation, as her prognosis was terminal. In 1997, Toguchi was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a cancer that arises in fat cells. She underwent surgery a year later and a tumor was removed, but the cancer metastasized to her lungs. Her physician, Dr. Walter Chang, told her, “Nobody has ever survived this cancer. It’s going to take you. Toguchi was surviving in 2008.
In April 2008, the Holy See accepted the two cures as evidence of Father Damien’s sanctity. On 2 June 2008, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican voted to recommend raising Father Damien of Molokaʻi to sainthood. The decree that officially notes and verifies the miracle needed for canonization was promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal José Saraiva Martins on 3 July 2008, with the ceremony taking place in Rome and celebrations in Belgium and Hawaii. On 21 February 2009, the Vatican announced that Father Damien would be canonized. The ceremony took place in Rome on Rosary Sunday, 11 October 2009, in the presence of King Albert II of the Belgians and Queen Paola as well as the Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy, and several cabinet ministers, completing the process of canonization. In Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama affirmed his deep admiration for St. Damien, saying that he gave voice to voiceless and dignity to the sick. Four other individuals were canonized with Father Damien at the same ceremony: Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, Sister Jeanne Jugan, Father Francisco Coll Guitart and Rafael Arnáiz Barón.