Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Spirit of Father Damien: The Leper Priest

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Spirit of Father Damien: The Leper Priest

Article excerpt

The Spirit of Father Damien: The Leper Priest BY JAN DE VOLDER IGNATIUS, 2Z8 PAGES, $15-95

The physical barriers of the wild, wind-ravaged, and isolated Hawaiian Kalaupapa peninsula are a fitting symbol of the world's understanding of the legacy of Fr. Damien of Molokai. At the base of the world's highest sea cliffs, the Belgian missionary spent sixteen years ministering to exiled lepers quarantined on the inaccessible peninsula, bringing order and peace to a lawless and lonely leper colony; his reputation outside of Kalaupapa since his death from leprosy in 1889 has risen and fallen in changing tides of adulation and conflict.

In The Spirit of Father Damien, Jan De Voider, editor of the Flemish Catholic weekly Tertio, unpacks and clarifies the complex issues surrounding his countryman. De Voider navigates the wealth of Damien research - the book is too scholarly to be a good first introduction - evenhandedly examining his green beginnings; his headstrong nature and sometimes prickly personality; his difficult relationship with his religious superiors; the accusations and criticisms of those who knew him, some of whom were jealous; the politics of the day; his missionary style and increasing maturity; and his final and fatal purification as a priest and leper. …

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