DAMIEN, FATHER, the name in religion of JOSEPH DE VEUSTER (1840-1889), Belgian missionary, was born at Tremeloo, near Louvain, on the 3rd of January 1840. He was educated for a business career, but in his eighteenth year entered the Church, joining the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary (also known as the Picpus Congregation), and taking Damien as his name in religion. In October 1863, while he was still in minor orders, he went out as a missionary to the Pacific Islands, taking the place of his brother, who had been prevented by an illness. He reached Honolulu in March 1864, and was ordained priest in Whitsuntide of that year. Struck with the sad condition of the lepers, whom it was the practice of the Hawaian government to deport to the island of Molokai, he conceived an earnest desire to mitigate their lot, and in 1873 volunteered to take spiritual charge of the settlement at Molokai. Here he remained for the rest of his life, with occasional visits to Honolulu, until he became stricken with leprosy in 1885. Besides attending to the spiritual needs of the lepers, he managed, by the labour of his own hands and by appeals to the Hawaian government, to improve materially the water-supply, the dwellings, and the victualling of the settlement. For five years he worked alone; subsequently other resident priests from time to time assisted him. He succumbed to leprosy on the 15th of April 1889. Some ill-considered imputations upon Father Damien by a Presbyterian minister produced a memorable tract by Robert Louis Stevenson (An Open Letter to the Rev. Dr Hyde, 1890).
See also lives by E. Clifford (1889) and Fr. Pamphile (1889).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)