Man of Molokai Essay - Critical Essays

Ann Roos


Ever since his death in April, 1889, on Molokai, Father Damien has been held in the highest esteem by Hawaiians of all faiths. When the territory of Hawaii became the fiftieth American state in 1959, the Hawaiian legislature had to decide which Hawaiians should be honored in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol; each state is entitled to two statues. King Kamehameha I, who transformed the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom, was a logical choice, but the Hawaiian state legislators decided to honor Father Damien as well in Statuary Hall. Although Roos was born in Brooklyn and lived on the mainland, she shared the great admiration that Hawaiians still have for this Belgian missionary who gave his life in the service of Hawaiians who were dying from Hansen’s disease.

Like other biographers of Father Damien, such as John Farrow in his 1937 book Damien, the Leper and Gavan Daws in his 1973 work Holy Man: Father Damien of Molokai, Roos presents even Father Damien’s faults as positive character traits. He showed almost no tact or diplomacy in dealing with the politicians in Honolulu who had to approve the funding for the leper colony in Kalawao. He simply kept writing to Hawaiian government officials and to his bishop that more simply had to be done to improve medical care and the general quality of life in Kalawao. His obstinacy eventually produced positive results. Queen Kapiolani and King David Kalakaua were so impressed by his idealism...

(The entire section is 549 words.)