St. Damien Parish, Pontiac:
Michigan may be the only mainland state with a parish bearing the name of Hawaii’s saint. The parishioners at St. Damien of Molokai Parish in Pontiac, in the Archdiocese of Detroit, take pride in their island patron.
The parish itself is the result of archdiocesan downsizing measures which resulted in the merging in July 2009 of three churches — St. Vincent de Paul, St. Michael and Shrine of St. Joseph. Seeking a new “neutral” name and patron, the churches were first grouped under the title “Blessed Damien Parish” by Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, a close friend of Hawaii’s Bishop Larry Silva. The name was changed to “St. Damien” at the moment of canonization.
The Pontiac parish sent 21 people to Rome for last year’s canonization. The pastor, Father Jim Kean, said the trip was helpful in bridging the three different church communities together. “We needed something that gave us an extra cause with which to unite. It helped us recognize our own birth, that we are a new reality,” he told The Michigan Catholic newspaper in October 2009.
In an Oct. 20 e-mailed message to the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Father Kean highlighted the progress of St. Damien of Molokai Parish since the canonization: "One of the parish’s Spanish-speaking choirs composed a song about St. Damien. Father Kean describes it as having “a calypso feel,” influenced by the church’s many Puerto Rican parishioners. He hopes to record the song soon and send a copy to Honolulu. The parish still uses all three of its churches. One of the churches is being repainted, and an artist has been commissioned to create a mural there as a tribute to St. Damien.
Shortly after the canonization, the parish received a poster from Leonce Eraly, a great-great-great grand nephew of St. Damien. The poster sits behind the altar at one of the churches. According to Lourdes Smith, the confirmation and youth ministry program coordinator at St. Damien of Molokai Parish, the parish hopes to organize a 2012 pilgrimage to Molokai around the second anniversary of St. Damien’s canonization. Father Kean said his parish continues to grow slowly, and that he is optimistic about the faith of the budding community.“This gives even more reason to look to St. Damien, who, by the grace of God, took on his problems with determination and only over time was able to achieve success little by little,” Father Kean said.
Honolulu cathedral celebration:
Bishop Silva marked the anniversary with Mass at 6 p.m. on Oct. 11 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu. About 100 people, including a few patients from Kalaupapa, attended the Monday evening liturgy. “We are here to thank God for what happened a year ago today,” the bishop said in his homily. “Damien was made a saint — something people around the world knew for a long time.”
“Damien could’ve had a comfortable life in Belgium, but that would not be the freedom to which God called him,” the bishop said. “Freedom was traveling halfway around the world to these islands. He made himself a slave to Jesus to share a message that would last for generations. “We were given the gift of this saint so we can free ourselves to do what might not seem to be free at all,” the bishop added.
The St. Damien choir and halau sang and performed Damien-inspired hymns and hula written for canonization-related events a year ago. The Mass ended with a public veneration of a St. Damien relic, bone from the saint’s foot.
Meanwhile, on Molokai:
Maria Sullivan, a parishioner and the special project manager of St. Damien Parish on Molokai, said that St. Damien was remembered with special prayers on Sunday, Oct. 10. The parish, on topside Molokai, is comprised of three churches, two of which were originally built by Father Damien. Sullivan said a special collection was taken up on Sunday at each of the Masses to raise money for the preservation of the tiny St. Joseph Church in Kamalo, which Father Damien built in 1876.
Molokai’s Catholic community also has been progressing in its efforts in building a new St. Damien Church, which will replace Kaunakakai’s St. Sophia Church which fire destroyed earlier this year. A contractor has already been selected for the project. Sullivan said that Sacred Hearts Father Lane Akiona celebrated a special canonization anniversary Mass in Kalaupapa.