Oklahoma and Maryland in April. New York and Illinois in November. A travel itinerary like that seems more befitting of a rock band than a humble saint from Molokai. Yet those destinations are on the agenda for the spirit of St. Damien this year.
Last November, Bishop Larry Silva announced that the diocese would have a “traveling relic” of St. Damien available for veneration. Word of the relic has reached the far corners of the U.S., and several mainland parishes have since requested an opportunity to host Hawaii’s saint. “The inquiries were more of a personal connection with the person of Damien — as a hero, saint — and wanting to share this with their diocese or parish through veneration, Mass and catechesis,” said Jonila Kim of the Office of Worship, which handles requests for the relic.
Kim recently gave the Hawaii Catholic Herald a list of the traveling relic’s upcoming destinations. The relic will be accompanied to each of the following locations by Sacred Hearts Father Paul Zaccone, who was officially assigned by Bishop Silva to take it abroad.
The traveling relic of St. Damien will first head to the Midwest to the Diocese of Tulsa, Okla., which has prepared four days of veneration and other St. Damien-themed events April 5-8. “Many of us have grown up with the image of St. Damien in our imagination,” said Msgr. Patrick Brankin of the Tulsa diocese’s Office of Divine Worship via e-mail. “The story of his surrender to the will of God and his voluntary exile on Molokai has certainly been a large part of the inspiration of my vocation. I know that the same would be true of other priests,” he said. Msgr. Brankin said that Tulsa’s Bishop Edward James Slattery attended Damien’s canonization in Rome in 2009.
To share the story of St. Damien with his diocese, Msgr. Brankin has first lined up an evening of solemn vespers at the Holy Family Cathedral on April 5. Veneration of the relic, confession and Mass are scheduled for the following morning. On the afternoon of April 6, the relic of St. Damien will head to St. Pius X parish. Middle school students from the diocese will gather there to watch actor Casey Groves perform “Damien,” a one-man play written by Aldyth Morris and previously made famous by Hawaii actor Terence Knapp.
That Wednesday will culminate with the relic being taken to the AIDS hospice run by the Tulsa diocese, and then a return to Holy Family Cathedral for veneration and a special Mass with an anointing of the sick. Msgr. Brankin said the relic will travel on April 7 to spend the day with the monks at Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Clear Creek, “a daughter house of the Abbey of Fontgombault, and a granddaughter house of Solesmes,” two famous abbeys in France.
On April 8, the relic’s last stop in Tulsa will be at Bishop Kelley High School. Msgr. Brankin said in addition to veneration of the relic, awards will be handed out for a St. Damien-inspired essay and poster contest at the diocesan school.
Immediately after its visit to Oklahoma, the relic of St. Damien will travel to the Maryland/Washington, D.C. area April 10-12. There, Father Zaccone will give talks and celebrate healing Masses at three different parishes. “I believe each parish will use Father Paul Zaccone and St. Damien to help us understand God’s purpose for St. Damien and his work with the [Hansen’s disease] community at Kalaupapa, as well as to use Father Damien to inspire us in God’s spirit of humility and service,” said Julie Benjamin of Jesus the Divine Word Parish in Huntingtown, Md., via e-mail. “Father Zaccone will bring the intercession of St. Damien directly to the people — to place our needs and wounds … upon God’s altar,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin, Jesus the Divine Word Church’s director of religious education, coordinated the relic’s visit to the east coast. As a former Hawaii resident, she is excited about hosting the relic in their community. Benjamin lived on Oahu with her husband and children from 1991 to 2002, serving as the director of religious education at the Pearl Harbor chapel for four years before her family transferred to the mainland. During her time in Hawaii, Benjamin visited Kalaupapa and came to admire Father Damien’s work and sacrifice. “Because Father Damien had been — and continues to be — such an important part of Hawaii Catholic history and its ohana, I came to love him in my love for the Islands,” Benjamin said.
The pastor of Jesus the Divine Word Parish, Father Dan Leary, also has been inspired by St. Damien. Father Leary said that as a seminarian, he read “The Heart of Father Damien” by Vital Jourdain and was instantly moved by his story. While in the seminary, Father Leary worked with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity. His dedication to serving the poor was further deepened by the impact St. Damien had on Mother Teresa’s mission. “Certain lives of saints are digestible for a young man going into the priesthood. St. Damien is one of them,” Father Leary told the Hawaii Catholic Herald by phone.
Father Leary and Benjamin have been searching for a relic of St. Damien for about six years. Benjamin said she has traveled to Hawaii several times, and Father Leary asked her on each occasion to inquire about obtaining a relic. Benjamin said she by chance came in contact with Sacred Hearts Father Christopher Keahi during a trip to the Islands in January. Father Keahi was the visiting priest at Pearl Harbor; after Mass, he told Benjamin about the diocese’s traveling relic of St. Damien. “It was divine intervention,” Benjamin said. “What a blessing!” Father Leary is looking forward to the relic’s visit and hopes it will also be good to share St. Damien’s story for religious vocations in their area. “I’m excited,” he said. “It truly is a huge honor.”
Brooklyn and Springfield
A couple of dates are in the works for the relic to travel in the fall. The Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., has secured a stretch of days in early November for several parishes to host the relic for veneration. According to Father Raymond Roden, the relic also will travel to St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., on Nov. 9. “Our intentions (for the relic) would probably be to assist in advancing our response to the universal call to holiness, solid vocations to priesthood and consecrated life,” Father Roden said.
The relic’s visit also will mark the successful transition of various parish and seminary mergers in their diocese. Father Roden said that Father Jim Sweeney, pastor of Our Lady of the Presentation Church in Brooklyn, will present Aldyth Morris’ “Damien” play at each of the veneration sites.
Father Daren Zehnle, the episcopal master of ceremonies and associate director of the Office of Vocations in Springfield, has inquired for the relic to possibly travel to Illinois in November. Father Zehnle has been to Hawaii several times and said he is “enamored with Father Damien.” “I have a friend from college who is from Waipahu,” he said. “When I visited him for the first time in Hawaii a few years ago, I arrived just before Damien’s feast and concelebrated Mass on his feast day at the Cathedral.” Dates and events for the relic’s visit to the Diocese of Springfield have not been set, but Father Zehnle said he is discussing the details with the pastor of their local cathedral.
New Jersey update
Earlier this year, the Hawaii Catholic Herald reported that a new St. Damien Parish in Ocean City, N.J. had made a request for the traveling relic of St. Damien. It turns out the parish will no longer be needing the traveling relic for its upcoming inaugural Mass. According to Deacon Joseph Orlando of the Ocean City Catholic Community, the parish has obtained its own relic of the saint.
“Archbishop Edwin O’Brien — the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a good friend of Ocean City — has obtained a relic of St. Damien through his contacts in Rome,” Deacon Orlando said. “The relic is from Belgium and is being presented to us to use at our Mass on April 10 for the faithful to venerate. We will be able to keep the relic here permanently at the parish and use it on feast days and special occasions,” he said. Deacon Orlando reports that the spirit of St. Damien is alive and well in Ocean City. The merging of three parishes into the new St. Damien parish will officially be completed on March 23. Plans are under way for more than 20 priests and deacons to concelebrate the parish’s inaugural Mass on April 10. Deacon Orlando said he expects the Mass to draw more than 1,000 people. “It is going to be a beautiful Mass,” he said.
By Darlene J.M. Dela Cruz | Hawaii Catholic Herald