Damien, in his fifteen years at the settlement, had seen the population of Kalawao turn over three times. "How many times," Conrardy asked himself, "will it be given to me to see it renew itself?"
Conrardy was living with Damien at Kalawao when the Franciscan Sisters arrived to take up work at the Bishop Home in November, 1888. They were in need of a priest, to serve as their chaplain. It could not be Damien: he was diseased. It would not be Conrardy: the Sisters, in consultation with Koeckemann and Fouesnel, had concluded that he was unsuitable. So the bishop and the provincial had to arrange for a member of their mission in good health and good standing to take up residence at the settlement—something they had refused to do for Damien when he was alone, despite his years of pleading.
When, at the height of the upset over Conrardy, Koeckemann had asked all his missionaries if they would go to Kalawao, and had been inundated with offers, one priest at least had not made his response in that way. Father Wendelin Moellers did not consider such a situation a matter for offers and acceptances. His answer, he said, was in the truest sense already in his superiors' hands. It was contained in his vows; he was under obedience; if his superiors gave him an obedience to go, he would go. This was clearly a good, conscientious priest. He was chosen; and he went ashore at Kalaupapa with the Sisters.
With him came a colleague, Father Corneille Limburg, to help temporarily with the installation of the Sisters, Limburg, reporting
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on his visit in a letter to the father-general, remarked that there were then four priests at the settlement—something unprecedented. A fifth, Damien's former occasional confessor, Father Columban Beissel, was just then visiting the healthy districts over the Pali; and Damien said he wished he could shout loud enough to bring Beissel down to Kalawao to be with them. Five priests on Molokai; and even after Beissel went back to Maui and Limburg to Oahu, three at the settlement. And the Sisters at the new Bishop Home at Kalaupapa. And, coincidentally, another lay helper, who, like Joseph Dutton, had arrived out of nowhere: an Irishman named James Sinnett, who came ashore in November, and went to work with Dutton, under the informal name of Brother James, at the boys' dormitory at Kalawao.
If Damien never did get his independent diocese—if indeed he had really meant to pursue the idea seriously—he at least got his reinforcements: the hard way, the strenuous way. But then that was the way of his life, the only way he ever knew at Kalawao.
Earlier in 1888, Damien had written to his old acquaintance, the American naval doctor, G. W. Woods, to tell him, among other things, that "a terrible storm visited us last Saturday, and on Sunday morning we found the steeple of our church on the ground." The wind shook Joseph Dutton awake; and he went from his little hut close by St. Philomena's to check the safety of the church. He was inside when the steeple fell. He went across to Damien's house, and found him in his upstairs bedroom, sound asleep. Surveying the damage next morning, Damien was dismayed. He had rebuilt St. Philomena's once before, in 1876; but, as he wrote to Woods, `being not so strong now, I fear not to be able to do so, myself, a similar difficult :work. My disease is progressing, and my hands and feet are undergoing a transformation."
In fact, Damien managed to find the energy he needed. Not
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long after the storm, a gift he had been waiting for arrived from the United States: two handsome tabernacles, one each for the churches at Kalawao and Kalaupapa. He wrote a letter of thanks, repeating the story of the fallen steeple, and added: "Fortunately, my hands, though quite sore, are not yet crippled—and if our Blessed Lord continues to keep up my health in the condition in which I am now, I hope to be able to finish these improvements."
When he had completed the installation of the tabernacle in St. Philomena's, he decided that it looked too big for the sanctuary, and went on to decide that the whole building ought to be altered and enlarged. He and Dutton had some discussions about what would be best. In the end, they set out, with the help of a hack' stonemason who happened to be at Kalawao, to rebuild in rock.
Father Corneille Limburg saw the work going on in its late stages, toward the end of the year, and was astonished to find Damien in the thick of it, on top of the church, in fact, putting on the roof. Damien's leprosy looked far gone: "the face puffy; the ears, one of which already has broken skin, swollen and elongated; the eyes red and the voice hoarse." But, incredibly, he was still strong and active. "You should have seen the wild activity he was directing, giving his orders now to the masons, now to the carpenters, now to the laborers, all lepers. You would have said he was a man in his element and pérfectly healthy. This tells you that Father Damien seems not to want to stop until he falls."
While Damien was working on St. Philomena's, Father Grégoire Archambaux was dying in his little cell at Kakaako. He managed to live a few months longer than his "drowned" asthma. His leprosy was not the same as Damien's; he suffered atrocious physical pain without being marked by sores on his skin. He died in November, 1888, the first of the Sacred Hearts mission in the Hawaiian Islands to be taken by leprosy: a good man, a worthy
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priest in his day, but no hero of self-sacrifice—an ordinary mortal in the end, trapped late in life by an extraordinary and loathsome disease, barely able to resign himself to his fate, and quite unable to match the ravages of leprosy with some powerful positive response of his own. None of his colleagues judged him harshly for this: they saw themselves in him.
Someone once asked Damien if he wanted to be cured, and his answer was no—not if the price was his departure from the settlement and the abandonment of his labors. From time to time, he spoke of leprosy as doing him the favor of shortening his road to heaven; and for this he thanked God and the Virgin Mary. But on the other hand, even if he might have preferred to be "called away to a better world," as he put it, the life of a "leper priest" had its own value. So, although he could not ask his friends to pray for the miracle of a complete cure, something of which he held himself to be unworthy, those who remembered him in prayer might properly ask for at least "a stay of the progress of the malady."
Damien believed, of course, in "the possibility of a miracle, such as reported in Holy Scripture." As to medical cures, or even treatments that worked well, Damien had become skeptical. He had ceased to think that there was such a thing as "a natural remedy to cure leprosy." "So many doctors and others advise me to do this and that, but all in vain—to overcome this incurable disease." The best thing, then, was to try to bear his leprosy without complaining, and suffer it to the soul's sanctification. Sickness, after all, was a "providential agent," intended to "detach the heart from all earthly affection," to prompt the desire of a Christian soul to be united—the sooner the better—with God.
Be patient, Léonor Fouesnel had told Damien in 1886; as soon as you are helpless, you will have someone to help you. He had his
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helpers now, no great thanks to Fouesnel; and those who saw him daily thought that helplessness could not be far away.
But he kept deceiving them, and himself. Not long after Conrardy came, Damien's eyes began to give him serious trouble. For the first time since he was ordained in 1864, he wrote, he could not say Mass. He recovered his sight; and his strength permitted him to continue with his work, installing the two new tabernacles, planning ahead for the renovation of St. Philomena's church. Then, one day in October, while he was offering Mass, he fell at the altar and could not go on. "I am getting old and weak," he wrote at about that time. "I know that my days are numbered, and do not expect to be in this miserable world for a long while." He spoke of how the disease had "gone down to my lungs," and of how he was looking forward to his happy death: "Very soon I hope all will be right—when the body is under the green coverlet."
The disease was beginning to work a fundamental change in Damien's physique; he could feel it, and he knew what it meant. He had talked about it as a general thing earlier in the year, before he had begun to experience it himself. Leprosy, he wrote to a well-wisher, began and continued for a time as a disease of the exterior of the body. Throughout this stage, a man might remain strong and active. But, said Damien, the day the interior is affected, "we become generally feeble; then, enveloped in covers for months or years, our sole expectation and sole hope is no more than deliverance from our miseries by a happy death."
A kind of fever laid him low in October, and kept him close to Kalawao village. For six weeks he was unable to visit Kalaupapa; and when in mid-November he drove to the boat landing in his buggy to meet the newly arrived Franciscan Sisters, he was still convalescent. But by the end of the month he was back at the strenuous work of roofing his church, in a fever of activity. If the leprosy in his body was shortening his road to heaven, and if his soul yearned to be with God, he was still not ready to compose himself for death.
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The act of mortuary composition was initiated for him, in advance of his death, by an Englishman named Edward Clifford, a conscientious Protestant layman philanthropically interested in leprosy, comfortably off, and possessing some skill as an artist. One Sunday morning in the spring of 1887, Clifford came across an account of Damien in "the magazine of the Soho girls' club," and decided to visit Kalawao. He made the trip the following year, after a preliminary and scarifying tour of the leprosy centers of India, a subcontinent with a huge and hopeless population of sufferers, most of them untreated. Arriving after this at Honolulu in December, 1888, Clifford took the little steamer Mokoli'i on its regular Monday sailing to Molokai, with the rest of its miscellaneous deck- passenger list and thirteen victims of leprosy bound for Kalawao. The Mokoli'i left Honolulu at sunset. Clifford spent the early hours of the evening on deck, stretched out uncomfortably on a mattress "invaded from the lower end by two pairs of legs—'t Chinese pair and a Hawaiian pair-; and when some of the Hawaiian passengers started to sing to the music of a guitar, Clifford gave up trying to sleep. "I relinquished my couch, and, retiring to another part of the vessel, gave myself up to the enjoyment of the moonlit precipices and ravines of Molokai, which we began to coast about midnight. Very solemn and rather terrible they looked."
At dawn, the Mokoli'i was off Kalaupapa, but there was such a heavy surf, with spray shooting up fifty feet from the rocks, that the ship's boat could not go in. Kalawao was no better. "Finally it was decided to put off a boat for a rocky point about a mile and a half distant from the town. Climbing down this point we saw about twenty lepers, and 'There is Father Damien!' said our purser; and, slowly moving along the hillside I saw a dark figure with a large straw hat. He came rather painfully down, and sat near the water-side, and we exchanged friendly signals across the waves while my baggage was being got out of the hold." The boat went swinging in through the surf; Clifford jumped ashore; and
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Damien "caught me by the hand, and a hearty welcome shone from his kindly face as he helped me up the rock."
Clifford had accepted the outstretched hand of Damien, but he did not want a diseased Ilawaiian hand on his belongings. He carried his own bag a mile and a half to Kalawao village. The walk was tiring, "up and down hill, through a broad stream, and then along a beach of boulders shaded by great precipices"; but "the pleasure of discovering that Damien was a finer man than I had even expected made it delightful." About halfway, Clifford stopped to refresh himself in the foam of the waves; and he was impressed by the "quiet way" in which Damien "sat down and read and prayed while I bathed, retiring at once into that hidden life which was so real to him. When I was ready to walk on with him he was all animation again, and pointed out to me all the objects of interest."
Clifford had come to Kalawao thinking of it as a hellish place; and indeed he found it distressing to see "none but lepers" for the fourteen days he was there. But he grew to enjoy it as he had not been able to enjoy the overpowering awfulness of India. He liked to watch the Hawaiians sit talking at their doorsteps, pounding kalo into poi, or galloping on their horses—"men and women alike astride"—between Kalawao village and Kalaupapa. "And one always receives the ready greeting and the readier smile." The "cheerful people, the lovely landscape, and the comparatively painless life were all surprises." There was even a moral beauty about Kalawao that Clifford could respond to. He met, and was impressed by, a "good old blind man in the hospital, who told me that he was thankful for the disease, because it had saved him from so much evil."
Clifford had brought with him a treatment for leprosy "in which I was much interested": gurjun oil, the "produce of a fir tree which grows plentifully in the Andaman Islands (off the coast of Burmah)."Ile had seen it used to what looked like good effect in India. The oil in its raw condition was brown and sticky; but "shaken tip with three parts of lime-water it makes an ointment as soft and
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smooth as butter." It was to be rubbed on the skin each day, the longer the better; and it could also be taken internally This treatment, in fact, was not new to Kalawao. It had been tried the previous year, but had not caught on. Clifford got the impression that Damien was no more than politely interested in it, but he hoped just the same that his gift would be given a fair chance to prove itself.
Other gifts for Damien and his work came with Clifford: charitable donations from well-disposed people in England, which were uncrated and handed out from the Mokoli'i's boat to be carried off one by one to Kalawao. "First came an engraving of Mr. Shields' `Good Shepherd,' from Lady Mount-Temple; then a set of large pictures of the Stations of the Cross, from the Hon. Maude Stanley; then a magic-lantern with Scriptural slides; then numbers of coloured prints; and ... an ariston from Lady Caroline Charteris, which would play about forty tunes simply by having its handle turned.... There were beautiful silver presents from Lady Grosvenor and Lady Airlie, and several gifts of money. And, most valuable of all, there was a water-color painting of the Vision of St. Francis by Mr. Burne-Jones, sent by the painter."
Damien hung the St. Francis—a copy of Burne-Jones' large oil painting, but worth some hundreds of dollars in its own right—in his little upstairs bedroom. He arranged for some of the colored prints to go on the walls of St. Philomena's church. Clifford staged his magic-lantern show, with its pictures from the life of Christ; and Damien explained to the watching crowd what they were seeing. The Hawaiians sang for Clifford: a "lepers' hymn," and, because it was Christmas, "Adeste Fideles." On Christmas Day, the people of Kalawao put on an entertainment, acting "little scenes": Belshazzar's feast, and other Biblical spectacles. Between times, Lady Caroline Charteris' ariston played cheerfully. Clifford could not have been more pleased.
Visitors in those years could stay in the Board of Health's guest house; and Damien would come over at night to talk to Clifford, sitting on the veranda steps, answering questions about his life
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while "the stars shone over his head, and all the valleys glimmered in golden moonlight." Damien would never come inside the guest house; but he invited Clifford to visit him at his own small home. They ate there with Conrardy, Clifford at a separate table, somewhat hesitant about what he was offered by Damien's cook, confining himself for the most part to biscuits and fresh fruits. After dinner, they would climb the steps to the second story, to sit outside Damien's workroom on a narrow balcony festooned with blossoming honeysuckle.
"Some of my happiest times at Molokai," Clifford wrote later, "were spent in this little balcony, sketching him and listening to what he said." Clifford made the effort to see Damien as he was on the leprous surface, as he was in inner truth, and as he once had been. The artist's subject was in his forty-ninth year, coming to the end of his final labor on the roof of St. Philomena's church, and his final battle with leprosy: "a thick-set, strongly-built man, with black curly hair and short beard, turning gray." The signs of the disease were evident—the hands and face uneven with a "sort of incipient boils," the forehead "swollen and ridged," the nose "somewhat sunk," the eyebrows gone, the ears "greatly enlarged." Damien, so Clifford deduced, must have had a handsome countenance, "with a full, well-curved mouth and a short, straight nose; but he is now a good deal disfigured .. , though not so badly as to make it anything but a pleasure to look at his bright, sensible face."
This was the kind eye of the sympathetic artist. Clifford sketched Damien in his balcony seat, often while he was reading his breviary, with Hawaiians gathered round to watch, "their poor faces ... swelled and drawn and distorted, with bloodshot goggle eyes." In the case of the Hawaiians, the artist did not bother to soften their looks with his pen, something he could not resist doing for Damien. Clifford's finished portrait of the priest, a gentle one, showed him in profile, wearing a straw hat and wire-rimmed glasses, head inclined, the disease suggested rather than clinically rendered, a man homely to look at rather than horrible. Even so,
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Damien was wryly mournful at what Clifford revealed to him of himself. "What an ugly face!" he said. "I did not know the disease had made such progress." And when Clifford offered to send a photographic copy of the picture to Pamphile in Belgium, Damien said that perhaps it would be better not to do so, as it might pain his brother to see how badly he was disfigured.
When Clifford came to write a book about his visit to Kalawao, he noted in the introduction that it was a worthy thing, a duty, to honor such men as Damien. He went on to observe that even good people "have generally a little difficulty at first in quite admiring a hero; for heroes are not made to order just on our favorite pattern. None of them are precisely like our grandmothers or our favorite clergymen." Yet he himself, a Protestant prepared to set out cogent arguments against Catholicism as a faith, proposed to admire Damien unreservedly, so he said, announcing to his readers that "what follows afterwards will be unmixed praise of a Roman Catholic saint." And the frontispiece he chose for his book was another portrait he had made of Damien, this time an "imagined" version of the priest twenty years younger, before leprosy, before Kalawao. There were photographs Clifford could have used for reference; but if he saw them, he chose not to bother with them. Rather, he defined for himself the necessary features of the not-yet-hero, showing, so to speak, what Damien must once have been in order to become what he did. This portrait, done in 1888, was dated 1868. It was the hero-to-be made to order by Clifford, for Clifford. Never did the features of a single man reconcile so sublimely strength and sensitivity and renunciatory purpose: the athlete's muscular neck rising from a priest's collar; severely cropped curls capping a well-shaped skull; a mouth somehow opulently ascetic; an eye at once melting and steadfast, on intimate terms with illimitable distances. It was the face of some wakefully dreaming Pre-Raphaelite young immortal, one who would never die—because he had never lived. It could not have been less like Damien.
When Clifford left Kalawao on the last day of 1888, Damien, the
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good, devoted, contentious, knotty, simple, complex, lonely, aging, dying man, came stumping clown to the shore in his tattered and patched black clothes and stood in all his disfigurement as the artist sailed away with his pictures. Clifford had found time in his two weeks at the settlement to paint some landscapes, but never the twilight landscape with figures that his eye arranged for him across the rail of the departing steamer. "As our ship weighed anchor the sombre purple cliffs were covered with white clouds. Down their sides leaped the cataracts.... Father Damien stood with his people on the rocks till we slowly passed from their sight. The sun was getting low in the heavens, the beams of light were slanting down the mountain sides, and then I saw the last of Molokai in a golden mist."
The turning of the year, from 1888 to 1889, was marked by a formal exchange of good wishes between Damien and his superiors. Bishop Koeckemann sent a meerschaum pipe with his note; and Father Fouesnel sent some tobacco, asking Damien's opinion of it so that he could ascertain his taste and keep him supplied. This was friendly in a small way; but there were large issues still between Kalawao and Honolulu which kept obtruding themselves.
Early in the new year, the question of altering the church building at Kalaupapa came up. It would be improved by sonic changes; but what should be done was a matter for disagreement. To begin with, the Franciscan Sisters at Kalaupapa had to be considered. They were independent of Damien; and their chaplain, Father Wendelin Moellers, was the priest of Kalaupapa, independent of Damien too, by the designation of the mission's superiors. He should have some say in the matter of the church, and also in the matter of where his own house was built. Damien, as always, had his own strong opinions.
While all this was being worked out, charity money kept arriv
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ing. Damien, so Koeckemann noted dryly, was "triumphing," with money "coming for him by the thousands of dollars." Koeckemann said he was prepared to allow Damien to spend it as he saw fit— and indeed Hugh Chapman and many of the other donors were still specifying that the money was to be put to use by Damien personally—but the bishop did write plaintively to Damien that he would prefer to be told what the money was being used for, rather than have to find out about it from the newspapers.
Problems of publicity; problems of obedience, or at least the definition of obedience; the problem of a lack of mutual confidence, in which strict definitions would not have been necessary —in all this, the new year was like the old. And, once the formal good wishes of the season had been passed across the Molokai Channel, Damien and his superiors went back to snapping at each other. First it was the business of the church at Kalaupapa: "Don't be so absolute in your ideas!" wrote Fouesnel. Then it was a long list of supplies that Damien wanted. He asked for them—as al ways, but now with ultimately pressing urgency—to be sent quickly; and Fouesnel complained that Damien was again dipping his pen in acid. "Don't be so impatient. Sometimes, even often, it is impossible; and you never take that into account ... `it's necessary,' `I need it,' `send it at once.' And when we have to write to France for it do you think I will get it sooner by throwing myself in the water? Calm yourself, then, and do as the others do." Damien, of course, was doing only what he took to be his duty.