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Chapter four

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Damien had not been inconsiderate of humility. He thought a great deal about praise and blame, about the world and God, about who the priest should be serving, about the imitation of Christ, and what the imitator's rewards and punishments might be. He was in the habit of keeping a notebook of meditations and resolutions made during his infrequent retreats. In his upstairs room he had


a little makeshift library of several score books, most of them volumes for pious study; and he would copy passages in pencil, adapting them to his situation, or perhaps follow a train of thought suggested by his reading.

Pray to achieve the spirit of humility [he told himself], so as to desire scorn. If one is scorned, may one rejoice in it. Let us not be touched by the praises of men; let us not be self-satisfied; let us be grateful to those who cause us pain or treat us with scorn, and pray to Cod for them. To accomplish this, beyond grace there is needed a great self-abnegation and a continual mortification; by these one finds oneself transformed into Christ crucified. Saint John of the Cross always prayed: "Lord, may I be scorned for love of You!" Let us make frequent meditations on the scorn which Christ suffered before Pilate —the face covered with spittle—the crown of thorns—the reed—the cloak of scarlet—Barabbas is preferred, etc."

Damien found himself living amid tensions and contradictions. The imitation of Christ had led him to Kalawao. Leprosy was a continual mortification, a crown of thorns, a repulsive spittle on the face, a slow crucifixion. It had brought him more praise from the world than most men ever earned; and he tried to render all that to God in mind, word, and deed. But from his superiors came accusations of haughtiness. They were as much as putting him on trial, jeering at him, spitting in his face. In imitation of Christ, he would try to suffer anything; but endurance was hard—harder, he said, than the bearing of his leprosy—when his superiors might well have seemed to him to be acting in imitation of Pilate.

For Damien the victim of leprosy, there was no way to leave Kalawao. For Damien the priest, there was no way out of his dilemma with his superiors—except if he could somehow free himself from their control and yet remain at the settlement. IIe never put any ideas along these lines on paper; but Mouritz thought he had something planned. Certainly the period of his great difficulties with Koeckemann and Fouesnel was the time of his most systematic thinking about leprosy and its institutions: he had done a long and comprehensive report for Gibson early in


1886, and later that year he put forward his scheme for the big and efficient Coto complex at Kalawao. In this connection, Mouritz found Damien "always pleased to discuss" one interesting subject. "He was imbued with certain lofty ideas and believed in the possi­bility of their future realization—the Leper Settlement to be a special diocese, Damien to be vicar-apostolic, with special powers direct from the Pope, and the work of the whole Settlement to be carried on under strict ecclesiastical lines, like a monastery." Ru­dolph Meyer, said Mouritz, "took delight in teasing Damien on the possibilities of this scheme turning out, and would often say, 'Fa­ther, how soon shall we see you with shaven poll and tonsure, assuming this will mark your new order.' Damien would laugh heartily and refuse to be drawn out."

If this was only escapist daydreaming, it was at least anchored in history. The lazar houses of medieval Europe were run along the lines Damien evidently sketched out for Mouritz and Meyer. And if Damien wanted to free himself from ecclesiastical shackles that had come to seem more painfully constricting than his dis­ease, then he was not the first priest in the history of the Church to see exceptional measures as the only worthwhile response to an exceptional situation.

In a general context, not involving Damien specifically, Bishop Koeckemann was prepared to point out to the father-general that one fixed rule for the whole Sacred Hearts mission in the Hawaiian Islands was impossible, because each station in the field was so different from the next. "Various priests are in fact independent as to the spiritual—and temporal, except as they lack resources." Damien's resources were multiplying, thanks to charity; and this was certainly one element in Koeckemann's judgment that Damien went impossibly far in the direction of independence, seeming to have gone into a separate order, above all religious and ecclesiastical authorities who might not approve and further his views." But then Koeckemann, in Damien's judgment—and Fouesnel, and anyone else who would not exert himself to the uttermost for the sake of Kalawao—did not go far enough. Very


few men in the history of the world had been able to bring them­selves to go as far as Damien. I-Iis was a harsh kind of solitude to endure, but ennobling at the same time: Christ also had been alone and scorned at the point of death. And if there was melan­cholia, beyond that springing from the disease itself, in the thought of submission to superiors who, though not necessarily unworthy, could never be brought to see things as he did, then in the vision of a better and freer way to serve the settlement there was a liberating joy, enough to restore to Damien—however briefly—the appetite for laughter in good heart.


In the meantime, there was work to be done. It would wait neither upon the establishment of a chimerical independent episcopate nor upon the re-establishment of harmony with his superiors. And its peremptory demands would not allow, in a man such as Damien, the continuance of a debilitating melancholia. His tem­per, in those troubled times, continued uncertain: Mouritz, the clinical characterizer, called him "nervo-bilious." But from the warring elements contending in his life, inside and outside his own mind and body, Damien drew an endlessly revived capacity for energetic action. Operating at the limit of his resources—beyond normal limits, indeed—he managed somehow to keep resuscitat­ing himself physically and emotionally, throwing himself again and again into his work.

There was, in fact, more work than ever, because the settle­ment, in 1888, was bigger than ever. Rudolph Meyer, reporting to the legislature in March, counted

5 churches, two of which are Protestant, two Catholic and one Mor­mon; 2 store houses, 2 pai-ai receiving houses, t store, 2 dormitories, of which one is for boys and the other for girls; about 12 hospital buildings, and 1 prison with two cells, and t receiving house at Kalaupapa for the newcomers when they first land ...1 commodious


and comfortably arranged dwelling house for a physician and 2 dis­pensaries, one at Kalawao and the other at Kalaupapa. All the rest of the buildings are cottages, occupied by the sick and their friends or relatives.

The total number of buildings of all sorts was 374. The total num­ber of cattle was about a thousand head. And in the wake of reform, the number of leprosy sufferers at the settlement rose, for the first time, above a thousand.

In deciding what ought to be done in the way of work, Damien never stood much on ceremony, or paid much attention to juris­dictional lines. He was the priest of Kalawao; the settlement was his to care for. Dutton pictured him "as always ready to take up with great vigor anything that presented itself as his actual duty; and further, anything at all that he thought would be good whether it was actually his duty or not; anything that appeared to him to be good—good to do—was something for his immediate action, apparently considering it really his duty. He did not give much time to the study of expediency, of the cost nor of the dangers."

Dutton saw Damien on his rounds in the last years of his robust­ness, when he could still work hard, but when he had already begun to sense that time was short, that his life would be over before his work was completed. As the settlement grew, his cares grew, till his activities became endless, a kind of priestly perpetual motion. Damien, said Dutton, would "drive ahead at what he deemed the most important until something else seemed more so, when he would jump over into that; so that he left a track of unfinished jobs. The thought of the moment, as things first oc­curred to him, gave his 'cue' and 'off he was'—to use one of his very frequent expressions. 'Off I am, Brother Joseph,' he said to me daily, almost hourly, and this was often coupled with the request that I finish what he was doing. 'Brother Joseph, you are going to finish these'—referring to the previous jobs, and would laugh­ingly add, 'I am the carpenter, Brother Joseph the joiner.' "

Just the same, Dutton remarked, in all this running about, with


innumerable projects taken up hurriedly and carried on by the help of others, Damien had "a way of making things turn out all right, at least so that a thing would work, though very often it would be far different from what he had first intended. Sometimes the result would be amusing, but he would say, `Well, we can use it!' "


A project close to Damien's heart was the orphanage he had set up at Kalawao village in the late 187os. He wanted more for this than the merely makeshift; he wanted the institution to work well; and he knew that it was beyond him to run it properly. By the middle 188os, he had more than a hundred boys and girls to look after. At the end of 1886, he began to build two new dormitories, and in the early part of 1887 he added two eating halls, one for girls and one for boys. Dutton could help him with the boys; for the girls, it would be best to have the help of the Franciscan Sisters. Already they were working among the healthy children of diseased parents, born at the settlement and sent for education to the Kapiolani Home in Honolulu. And they were working among leprosy sufferers at Kakaako branch hospital. When Damien made his difficult visit to Honolulu in mid-1886, he discussed the question with Mother Marianne. She was ready enough to see what could be done about sending Sisters to Kalawao; but then the project became mixed up with all the other difficulties of those years: Damien's strained relations with his superiors; the delicate politi­cal situation; the revolution of 1887 and the Protestant political hegemony that followed. In the midst of all this delay, rumors began to be heard that a group of Episcopalian Sisters, English­women, were to be brought to the settlement. Damien's superiors, connecting this—as they did so much else—with Damien's expo­sure to publicity in England, were furious. They regarded it as another of his attempts to force the hand of the mission, and now


the hand of the Sisters as well: Damien, they said, was making martyrs out of pious women, compelling them to descend into an earthly hell.

This was hardly true. Mother Marianne herself and some of her Sisters were more than willing to go to the settlement; and when the time was right, they did. In 1888, the Board of Health decided to dismantle the branch leprosy hospital at Kakaako—a bad, Gib­sonian invention, best got rid of, in their opinion. The inmates were to be sent to the settlement, Some of the larger buildings at Kakaako were to be broken up for shipment there as well, and reassembled at Kalaupapa, not far from the boat landing, to serve as the nucleus of a girls' home, under the control of the Board of Health and staffed by the Sisters.

Part of the funding for all this came from the philanthropy of Charles Reed Bishop, a haole banker and businessman of Honolulu. Bishop had married a female Hawaiian chief, Bernice Pauahi, the last of the Kamehameha dynasty; and since her death in 1884 he had been administrator of her vast estates. He was also the owner of Molokai Ranch, which Rudolph Meyer managed for him; and this was the source of his informed interest in the prob­lem of leprosy. One of Bishop's friendly advisers in the dispensa­tion of charity was Charles McEwen Hyde.


Damien's superiors, criticizing his "independence," used to say that he had no friends in the Congregation. No one, they said, could live with him; and they instanced André Burgerman, Albert Montiton, and Grégoire Archambaux. To be fair in even the most grudging sense to Damien, it might have been added that very few people ever found it possible to live contentedly with either Burgerman or Montiton; and that as for Archambaux, it was Kala­wao leprosy itself, at bottom—that he could not endure, rather than Damien as a person.


Damien and his latest companion, Joseph Dutton, in turn had a minor dispute over jurisdiction, brought about partly by Dut­ton's anomalous position (authorized to be at Kalawao by the Board of Health, he was under Damien's direction, but not a member of the Sacred Hearts). The bishop and the provincial immediately categorized the argument as the "martyrdom" of Dutton at the hands of Damien. "Martyrdom" was a word surely excessive for the outcome of a short-lived verbal disagreement, and one they never used for Damien's leprosy itself. Dutton, in fact, managed to get along well with Damien in what were appall­ingly difficult times for the sick priest—and then this working amicability was used by Koeckemann and Fouesnel as further evidence that Damien preferred outsiders over his fellow mem­bers of the Sacred Hearts Congregation.

In this regard, however, Dutton was only a secondary figure. The principal accusation of that sort against Damien concerned not Dutton, a nominal lay brother, but another man who arrived to work at Kalawao in mid-1888, an ordained priest from outside the Congregation.

Father Louis-Lambert Conrardy was like Damien in a number of ways. He was the same age: in his later forties. He was a Belgian (a Walloon, a French-speaker, not a Fleming like Damien; nonetheless this, to Damien's superiors—the bishop a German and the provincial a Frenchman—was yet another evidence of Da- mien's lack of family feeling for the Sacred Hearts: if he could not be sole authority at Kalawao, he would opt for tribal exclusivity, even if it involved reinforcing his station from outside the Congre­gation). Just as Damien had done, Conrardy yearned for a priest's life in the distant and difficult country of hermits and martyrs. He had spent between two and three years in Hindustan, then fifteen years in Indian territory in Oregon, where once he was nearly scalped. He had been aware of the existence of Kalawao settle­ment for several years, and had developed a longing to go there. He began to write in earnest to the Hawaiian Islands in 1881. Damien, in his troubles, began to encourage him late in 1887. No


matter how often or how urgently he requested his superiors to send him a regular confessor, they would not, or at least they did not. Now here was an ordained priest, a confessor, burning to come.

Negotiations over Conrardy were prolonged, tangled, and bad- tempered, as were most of the dealings between Damien and his superiors in those troubled years; and the tangle did not finally resolve itself until several years after Damien's death. To begin with, Bishop Koeckemann did not want any "stranger" priests within his diocese. The Hawaiian mission had had a bad experi­ence with such a man some years earlier, when an itinerant Irish priest had ingratiated himself with King Kalakaua, who then tried to have him made bishop, vicar-apostolic of the islands. The Irish­man soon discredited himself in a spectacular and tragic way: a college building he erected in Honolulu collapsed, killing a stu­dent. The priest departed hastily, leaving Koeckemann to be named bishop. This was as much as Koeckemann ever wanted to have to do with outsiders.

Accordingly, he would have preferred Conrardy to become a member of the Congregation, to take a novitiate and profess his vows in the regular way. Then, if he still wanted to, and if condi­tions were right, he could go to Kalawao and work with Damien. Conrardy, on his side, was urgent about going straight to Molokai. He regretted not having been there for years already, so he told Damien; he wanted wings to fly there. Damien saw that, given Koeckemann's opposition to outsiders and his evident doubts about Conrardy as a person, to allow Conrardy to be sent to Europe for a novitiate would be tantamount to never seeing him at Kalawao.

Damien put his case to Koeckemann strongly, as he put all his cases, which were really just parts of the same case: he was in an exceptional situation, and an exceptional solution to his problems should be permitted. Koeckemann eventually capitulated. Con­rardy would be allowed to go direct to Kalawao, without passing through a novitiate. But then Koeckemann, writing to the father 


general, complained that Damien had forced his hand; and the bishop went on to rehearse all his old complaints about the way in which events kept escaping ecclesiastical control—all the un­manageable consequences of Damien's existence which made the life of a bishop so hard and rendered his authority so inadequate. Damien, said Koeckemann, had "ordered" Conrardy to come to Kalawao as soon as possible. ''That really puts me in an embarrass­ing position. If I oppose his views, he will denounce me to the four winds as an enemy of the good of the poor lepers. He sees only the leper settlement and himself; everything else must give way to his ideas. In his letters, he intends to tell the truth; but certainly he often presents it in a false light, suppressing some truths; the government, the mission, and the Congregation are directly or indirectly and unjustly blamed for casting shadows on the hero."

Within the mission at large, Koeckemann went on, there was trouble over Conrardy's imminent arrival. Once the interloper was at work with Damien, the world would be filled with the "glory of the Belgians" at the expense of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. "Some of the Fathers have already expressed to me their mortification on this subject." A Honolulu paper had just reprinted an extract from a California paper: a letter in which Damien asked for Conrardy "so as to have someone to take care of the lepers after he was gone, as if there was no one among us who wished to take his place, whereas several of our Fathers are ready to go there at the first signal." This was true enough. When Koeckemann wrote a circular letter to all his priests asking for volunteers for Kalawao, the great majority answered that they would go if called—"an inundation of letters," Léonor Fouesnel called it.

It was true enough as well that all that was required for the press to shower praises on a priest was for him to go to Kalawao. So Koeckemann at any point could have redeemed himself, his mis­sion, and his Congregation from the criticism to which he was so sensitive by arranging to send Damien a colleague, some solid, reliable, and willing member of the Sacred Hearts. But Koeck 


emann did not, and he did not, and he did not: not after André Burgerman left the leprosy settlement in 188o; nor when Albert Montiton left in 1885; nor when Grégoire Archambaux left once, then twice, in 1885 and 1888. Over the years, Damien was alone at Kalawao more than half the time. He had come to expect inac­tion from Koeckemann and Fouesnel, and so he himself was active in his own behalf. Having all but given up hope for a confessor from within the Congregation, he agitated for a companion from outside. He got what he wanted, or rather what the exhaustion of alternatives forced him to want. Koeckemann had the mortifica­tion of seeing the Honolulu papers praise Conrardy as the "new hero" of Kalawao. Not till then, in point of fact, did the bishop think to write his circular letter asking for volunteers; and the answers, of course, came too late. Conrardy was already at Kala­wao, making plans with Damien to ensure that he would be able to stay, and preparing to succeed Damien on his death, whenever that might occur.

Damien wrote to the chapter-general of the Congregation, meeting in Paris—or, more exactly, being sick at that moment, he had Conrardy write in his name—asking for consideration of the best means to hold Conrardy without making him go through a novitiate. Conrardy, so the letter said, was a good worker, used to rough conditions. Damien genuinely needed him; Conrardy's presence had already improved his situation. It was a strong, per­suasive letter, written within the Rule of the Congregation; there was nothing disobedient about what Damien was arguing. This letter would have reached Paris at the same time as letters from Koeckemann and Fouesnel, bemoaning the imposition of Con­rardy on the mission, denigrating Damien as an unsuitable reli­gious director for the outsider-priest and, further, as almost an enemy of the Sacred Hearts. If the two Belgians stayed too long together, wrote Koeckemann, it was to be feared that "they would end by bringing shame on the mission, either by mutual praise, or by false reports."

With a kind of fatedness which seemed to attach itself to corre 


spondence from Kalawao, Conrardy's letters began to find their way into the papers. Ile wrote to friends in the United States, and they passed the letters on for publication. Conrardy's descriptions of life at the settlement were everything that Koeckemann and Fouesnel feared: not prudent, not "official"; not, perhaps, false in what they said, but "misleading" in what they left out, all to the detriment of the mission and the government. Once again, this new embarrassment could have been avoided if the bishop and the provincial had placed a man of their choice at Kalawao in advance of Conrardy. But they had not; and so they had to bear the knowledge that the Protestant-dominated Board of Health, proud of its conscientiousness, was yet again distinctly irritated.

The secretary of the Board wrote directly to Conrardy, inviting him to reconsider what he was reported as saying. "Leprosy is our bane, the nations ulcer, and good taste at least demands that it should not be needlessly exposed to the gaze of the world." It was not possible by means of "popular articles" to convey to "mixed multitudes of readers" a correct and truthful impression of Kala­wao settlement. The Board's conclusion was that such articles were "not calculated to benefit this country or the government but to injure us unnecessarily and place us in a false light."

In a later-published letter, Conrardy in fact said, among other things, that the Hawaiian government was doing all it could to help the people of Kalawao. Beyond that, he did no more than describe what he experienced. Like every newcomer to Kalawao, he was all but felled by the horror of the place: the sight of little children washing their clothes with ravaged hands; a smell that seemed to him purgatorial. Damien's own sores were enough to take away Conrardy's appetite; he got severe headaches. An asth­matic like Archambaux before him, he worried that he might be incapacitated, unable to work in Kalawao's humid climate. But he survived the weather and his early repugnance; he got used to eating meals with Damien; and he became able to consider his future calmly. Closeness to leprosy, Conrardy said, was "enough to put to flight a regiment of brave soldiers." He proposed to stay


even so, though he considered it inevitable that he would catch the disease. Precautions might be talked about, but not infallibly practiced. He was at risk every moment. "I believe there is no more possibility of remaining uncontaminated than for a man to live in a fire without being burnt."

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