Man of Molokai by Ann Roos

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Man of Molokai Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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 that large sums of money were approved for his leper colony.

Roos indicates a basic difference between Father Damien and most other missionaries. Others kept themselves at a safe distance from the lepers during their infrequent pastoral visits to Kalawao; Father Damien lived and ate with the lepers, personally changed their bandages, and even helped with the physical labor involved in laying the water pipes that brought water to Kalawao. He earned the respect and trust of his parishioners.

Roos stresses the fact that Father Damien was a very humble man. He was genuinely upset when he learned that he was becoming famous not only in Hawaii but also in North America and Europe. When Father Pamphile sent him a copy...

(The entire section is 549 words.)