In 1890 the acclaimed Scottish author Robert Louse Stephenson defended the reputation of a simple Belgian priest who had recently died of leprosy. The priest was Fr. Damien and he had died working in a leper colony. Religious bias at time traduced his sacrifice and good name.
But Robert Louse Stevenson not Catholic took up the cause and asked how could we dismiss such man out of hand… were we have failed, and he succeeded; when we stood by, and he stepped in; when we sat in our comfortable homes, this plain, uncouth peasant priest stepped into the battle and under the eyes of God comforted the afflicted, consoled the dying, and himself died upon the field of honour.”
Fr Damien was indeed a simple man but he was also an outstanding shepherd and father to his flock. When the bishop decided to send a priest to the leper colony he knew it was a death sentence so he asked for volunteers.
Father Damien was the first to volunteer and he arrived at the secluded leper colony on the 10th May 1873. His role was not limited to priestly duties he built a church, dressed wounds and ulcers, constructed a reservoir, established a school, built homes and made furniture, he dug graves and made coffins. Many of these task were beyond his parishioners their state of health was so weak.
Six months after his arrival on the island, isolated and alone he wrote this striking to his brother…with the lepers, I make myself a leper to gain all for Christ.
Fr Damien eventually contracted leprosy himself and with great acceptance continued to minister to his little flock. Like Christ the Good Shepherd Fr. Damien gladly lay down his life for them and became an example to the world. When some tried to reduce the goodness of this man it was Robert Louis Stephenson who safeguarded this most humble and simple of men. Christ’s beggar priest
Fr Damien is now known by a big a title he himself would never have recognise. For now he is styled the Apostle to the Lepers and Martyr of Charity. But he would have seen himself as just a priest doing his duty. And he reminds us of all those who continue the work of the Good Shepherd in the world today. This week on this Good Shepherd Sunday the Church prays for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. That God may raise up in our midst generous and courageous man and women who will dedicate their lives to him and to his people. This week please pray for vocations. Even as we thank God for five new priests ordained for our diocese last year and the four new ordinations this year.