Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fr. Damien

Above is an illustration of the young Damien of Molokai. The Presbyterian minister, Dr. Hyde of Honolulu, in 1889 wrote the following attack about Fr. Damien of Molokai to his friend, Reverend H.B. Gage and said the following things about Fr. Damien:
“Honolulu. August 2, 1889.
Rev. H.B. Gage:  “Dear Brother—In answer to your inquiries about Fr. Damien, I can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted.
   ”He was not sent to Molokai, but went there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before he became one himself), but circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as occasion required and means were provided.
   ”He was not a pure man in his relations with women, and the leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and carelessness. Others have done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the government physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic idea of meriting eternal life.—Yours, etc.”
The famous writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, had just visited the leper colony at Molokai and heard first hand accounts of Fr. Damien’s work there. When he read such a slanderous defamation of Fr. Damien from a minister of his own denomination, he became enraged and begins a famous response called Fr. Damien: An Open Letter to the Reverend Dr. Hyde of Honolulu:
   ”You (Dr. Hyde) have done me (Stevenson) several courtesies, for which I was prepared to be grateful. But there are duties which come before gratitude, and offences which justly divide friends, far more acquaintances. Your letter to the Rev. H.B. Gage is a document, which, in my sight, if you had filled me with bread when I was starving, if you had sat up to nurse my father when he lay a-dying, would yet absolve me from the bonds of gratitude.”
Stevenson is saying that the sin of slander against the priest is so awful, that there is nothing that should prevent him from exposing how down low and dirty the calumny is. He is saying that if there is anytime to break rank with your friends and even forget their courtesies to you, it is when they have slandered an innocent person. Setting the record straight may not be nice, and you may lose followers for it, but all the niceness of your friends can never be an excuse for covering up or ignoring their calumnies against someone.
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