Saturday, July 30, 2011

Joseph (Ira) Dutton (1843-1931)

Wisconson State Journal, July 26th 2011: There’s been so much anger and violence in the news lately that it might be refreshing to consider the life of a Wisconsin man who devoted half a century to humility and compassion.
Ira Dutton was born in Vermont in 1843 and came to Wisconsin as a child. He was still a teenager when the Civil War broke out, and he joined the 13th Infantry as quartermaster. His duties included provisioning soldiers with food and clothing, tending the sick and burying the dead. After his discharge in 1865, Dutton stayed in the South tracing missing soldiers, collecting their remains and settling survivors’ claims.
These horrors and a failed marriage drove him to drink heavily. By his own account, he spent the next decade in a drunken stupor. When he emerged from the gutter in 1876, Dutton began to study religion, and in 1883 he joined the Trappist Monastery at Gethsemane, Ky., expecting to spend his life in contemplation.
But he soon learned about the work of Father Damien DeVeuster (“Damien the Leper”) caring for shunned native Hawaiians at Molokai, and he left for the islands in 1886. Dutton introduced himself as “Brother Joseph” when he met the tiny relief corps at the Kalaupapa Leper Colony.
He volunteered there for 45 years, until his death in 1931. Dutton spent his days building latrines, bandaging sores, mopping floors, and serving meals to the diseased and despised. He accepted no pay and insisted that his military pension be donated to the monks at Gethsemane.
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