HOLY MAN: Father Damien of Molokai by Gavan Daws

HOLY MAN: Father Damien of Molokai

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The leper priest of Molokai has been seen variously as a saint, a dedicated professional, a dirty old man, and (as suggested in A Burnt-Out Case) a neurotic. Daws' investigation leads back to the young priest's early expression of an ""aptitude for mortification"" and to older brother Pamphile whose vocation presented a competitive challenge. But despite a total commitment that led Damien to embrace identification with his congregation -- and despite his careless hygiene -- Daws finds no evidence that Damien actually courted the disease. There is, however, abundant evidence that the Roman Catholic's presence was an embarrassment to Hawaii's white Protestants who viewed the epidemic incidence of leprosy as a consequence of the islanders' moral depravity -- to be dealt with solely by strict segregation of sufferers. Meanwhile in 19th-century Europe, where the realization that leprosy was not exclusively a black man's disease cast a shadow over imperialist ambitions and where the martyrdom of Molokai could be appreciated from a safe distance, Damien became a celebrity. Daws essentially concurs with Robert Louis Stevenson's defense which argued that Damien should be judged by his accomplishments rather than his psychology. And if he seems to have veered from what initially promised to be an ambitious search for a secular definition of sainthood, the sociology of leprosy and the role played by that disease in the Hawaiian revolution are fascinating corollaries to the career of a man who became ""God's athlete"" personified.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1973
ISBN: 0824809203
Publisher: Harper & Row