The Holy Rosary Church is a Gothic style cathedral located on Baldwin Avenue in Paia, the first stop on the Road to Hana.You can get to the church from Hana Picnic Lunch Company. Built in 1926, the Holy Rosary Church itself is a worthy destination boasting beautiful stained glass windows and lush green grounds. For Hawaii history buffs, the Holy Rosary Church has another attraction in its beautiful marble sculpture of Saint Damien of Molokai. Erected in 1976 and sculpted by an unnamed sculptor, this life size likeness of Father Damien is situated in front of a large display of beautiful flowers on the church grounds. The statue shows the sainted catholic priest from Belgium seated with a man lying on the ground between his feet. The touching Italian marble sculpture tells the story of Father Damien, famous for his selfless devotion to the lepers of Kalaupapa and Kalawao, two leper colonies located on the island of Molokai.
Father Damien, now recognized officially as a saint by the Catholic Church, first arrived in Oahu in 1864. At the time of the young priest’s arrival, Hawaii was suffering a crisis of public health brought on by all the new traffic to and from the islands. In particular, there was an outbreak of leprosy,or Hansen’s Disease, which was little understood and much feared. In response King Kamehameha V issued an edict called The Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy in 1865, and set up two leper colonies in an isolated region of Molokai. It is said Kamehameha V had only great intentions, but the colonies were inadequately supplied and poorly overseen and they quickly degenerated into squalor. Some stories even report the colonies becoming terrible scenes of filth and degradation, with men behaving as little more than animals. We don’t know if things actually got this bad, but we do know that when the monarchy requested volunteers to minister to the colonies and a young Father Damien volunteered, his arrival was met with relief and joy.
In Father Damien‘s loving hands, the colonies soon became orderly, even somewhat happy places. Although he could not cure leprosy, Father Damien and his way of faith brought a renewed sense of purpose to the colonists. Father Damien first became widely known for his ministrations to the lepers when King David Kalakaua granted him the title Kinight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalakaua and sent Princess Lili’uokalani to give the priest his medal and visit the colonies on Molokai. She was so moved by her experience that she began to tell the story of Father Damien and the lepers on Molokai, and as it spread the priest’s fame increased. Father Damien himself contracted leprosy in 1884, dying of the disease in 1889. It is said he strove to be of service until the very end of his life, and worked to make sure his legacy would live on in the treatment of the Molokai lepers.
Father Damien‘s path to official sainthood began in 1977, when the pope declared him “venerable”, the first step to canonization. Along the way two miracles were attributed to the loving spirit of Father Damien, including the miraculous 1997 recovery of Audrey Toguchi, a Hawaiian woman suffering from incurable cancer. After praying at Father Damien’s gravesite on Molokai, Audrey experienced a complete recovery – almost overnight. Father Damien was officially declared Saint Damien of Molokai on October 11 of 2009. The Father Damien sculpture on Paia is not only a work of art in its own right, it represents a life well-lived in the service of others. It is a great place to stop and appreciate all the good to be found in our fellow human beings, and also to count our own blessings as we continue our journey down the Road to Hana.
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