Aloha Saint Damien: His Presence on Topside Molokai

This is an ongoing blog about Father Damien by Molokai Dispatch reporter Megan Stephenson.

In my journey through Father Damien’s life, it has become apparent how difficult it is to narrow down someone’s entire life into small statements – especially someone like this soon-to-be saint. His experiences when he was young shaped his later decisions; he met people that impacted his life choices, personally and professionally; and he kept focus on a spiritual journey that is impossible to truly capture and share with others. This information has filled several books and even a few movie screens.
 
However, Father Damien was a truly remarkable person for his time. While he lived in the ‘Age of Reason,’ where scientific discoveries overtook religious explanations of the world, his life’s work had no answers. Leprosy was a mystery until the middle part of last century – it left only misunderstandings and instilled fear in most people. Damien was one of the few to work among those afflicted with the disease despite the apprehension.

In light of these recent thoughts, I am exploring Damien’s legacy on the very island he served. A week or so ago, I was driving on the Kalae Highway and saw a sign for a Kalaupapa exhibit. My nerdy self got excited: it combined my work, writing about Father Damien and his impact here on Molokai, and indulged my hobby of visiting museums.

So today, I went to the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center. It’s primarily the R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill Museum, dedicated to Rudolph Meyer, who started the sugar mill after he arrived on Molokai around 1848 as the public works superintendent. He worked closely with Damien during his tenure, often helping the missionary find the resources he needed.

Very understated, the Kalaupapa exhibit focused on the patients. There were many donated crafts, photos, and other artifacts from present patients in Kalaupapa: a coconut lamp, a wood-burned image of Father Damien, and black-and-white photographs of the peninsula, the nuns, and life throughout the years. The museum gave a very honest impression of how private the peninsula’s residents are, as well as the island’s protective nature of their privacy.

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