Father Damien and Mother Marianne | Art for Proper 23

‘As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him’Luke 17:12

Father Damien and Mother Marianne
Father Damien and Mother Marianne
Date: c. 1980?
Building: Star of the Sea Painted Church
Object/Function: Stained glass
City/Town: Kalaupapa, Moloka’i
State: HI
Country: United States
Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Click here for Hovak’s previous blog on stained glass.
Father Damien and Mother Marianne, stained glass, c.1980, Star of the Sea Painted Church, Hawaii, 1927-1928

Although leprosy (Hansen’s disease) has been known since ancient times, a successful treatment of it was not found until the twentieth century. For thousands of years the universal response to it was fear. People with leprosy were shunned and often resettled in colonies.

As a result of an increase in leprosy in Hawaii in the nineteenth century, a colony was established at Kalaupapa (a portion of an isolated peninsula on the island of Molokai). An afflicted person was taken there by ship and sometimes left callously in the water to swim ashore. Rather than have direct contact, at times food and supplies were said to have been dumped overboard to float to the shore via ocean currents. When lepers first arrived at Kalaupapa in 1866, there were no amenities and everyone was left on their own. It was not until Fr. Damien De Veuster, arrived seven years later that care was given and improvements to living conditions were made.

Fr. Damien, a Belgian, went to Hawaii as a missionary and was ordained in Honolulu. While serving on Oahu, many of his parishioners were dying from diseases brought to the islands by seamen and immigrants. When it was announced that a priest was needed at the leper colony, Fr. Damien volunteered. Upon his arrival, he set about immediately to establish a sense of community by building houses, roads, chapels, care facilities, and also establishing farms. Fr. Damien himself was struck by leprosy after serving at the colony for twelve years and Mother Marianne Cope volunteered to serve in his place. She attended to Fr. Damien during his last days and continued to serve the afflicted until her death from natural causes. At mid-twentieth century, new drugs were affective in treating leprosy and the law in Hawaii to isolate people with the disease was nullified in 1969.

The small colonial revival style Star of the Sea Painted Church was built in 1927-28 in Kalapana on the Big Island, Hawaii, by Fr. Evarist Gielen. He then painted murals on its ceiling to honor the work of Fr. Damien. The lower scenes were painted later (1941) by George Heidler. Still later (c.1980), stained glass portraits of both Father Damien and Mother Marianne were added. The portraits are unembellished and unpretentious; both figures seem self-assured and imbued with a sense of serenity. The Roman Catholic Church declared Fr. Damien and Mother Marianne to be saints in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

Star of the Sea Painted Church at its original location was in the path of lava flowing from an eruption of Mount Kilauea. In 1990 it was moved from Kalapana to a safe location at Puna, twenty-eight miles south of Hilo.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

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