New saint inspires K of C council - Catholic Courier

New saint inspires K of C council

ROCHESTER — For many vacationers, Hawaii ranks as the ultimate destination for fun and comfort. Yet a much more sobering setting — that of a 19th-century Hawaiian leper community, and a Belgian priest’s ceaseless care for its suffering residents — is what inspires Knights of Columbus Council 11411 today.

So great was the ministry of Father Damien of Molokai that he is ascending to sainthood on Oct 11. This designation is a major deal for Blessed Damien of Molokai Council, which is among a handful of K of C groups across the country to be named after him. Members have scheduled a Mass honoring his canonization on Sunday, Oct. 18, at 4 p.m. at St. Anne Church, 1600 Mount Hope Ave., where the council is based.

"Basically, our mission is to reflect Christ as a servant. Damien reflected that very well," said Angelo Guzman, who serves as Council 11411’s warden. "To be the right arm of the church — this is what Damien did. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and neither are we."

It’s fitting that the canonization is taking place during Respect Life Month, since both Blessed Damien and Council 11411 are strongly attached to the concept of respecting human life in all its forms — particularly the sick and disadvantaged. Council 11411’s support has included such causes as the Project Rachel post-abortion ministry; homes for the dying; homeless shelters; soup kitchens; foreign mission projects; Hurricane Katrina victim relief; Ronald McDonald House; Golisano Children’s Hospital; Veterans Outreach; American Red Cross; and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Other examples of Blessed Damien Council’s work are providing rosaries for those in confirmation and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs; giving financial aid to seminarians, parish teens and K of C members’ families; and helping form a new K of C council two years ago at Rochester Institute of Technology.

"We offer whatever help, financially or spiritually, for these groups. We try to make ourselves visible so people realize we’re out there," said Fred Johnson, council treasurer.

On the other hand, Council 11411 also is active behind the scenes, according to Ron Smith, past Grand Knight. For instance, members regularly distribute magazines at area hospitals and adult homes without anyone ever knowing the source. And at nearby Monroe Community Hospital, Knights assist in transporting patients to Sunday Masses.

"If it wasn’t for the number of volunteers, there would be a lot of people sitting in their rooms," Smith remarked.

Similarly, caring for folks who would otherwise be left behind was the essence of Blessed Damien’s ministry. Born Jozef de Veuster, he arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1864 as a missionary, nearly 100 years before Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state. He was ordained in Honolulu that year as a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Nine years later Father Damien voluntarily moved to the island of Molokai, where a settlement had been established by the Hawaiian government for several hundred people beset with leprosy. Also known as Hansen’s disease, the progressive bacterial condition causes severe skin lesions and disfigurement and is potentially contagious.

Father Damien nonetheless committed to serving the lepers for the rest of his life. In addition to his priestly presence he provided medical care due to a lack of doctors and nurses, founded orphanages, and took part in the construction of facilities. In 1884 Father Damien discovered that he had finally contracted leprosy himself. He continued right on with his ministry until succumbing to the disease in 1889 at age 49.

Just over a century later, the priest’s legacy was recalled when members of St. Anne Parish sought to establish a Knights of Columbus council. St. Anne’s pastor, Father Frank Lioi — who is now pastor at St. Mary Parish in Auburn — suggested the new council adopt Father Damien’s name based on the special devotion he had developed for the missionary while serving at the American College in Louvain, Belgium, from 1981-89.

Thus, Blessed Damien of Molokai Council 11411 was launched in 1994, just prior to Father Damien’s 1995 beatification. As his canonization draws near, members noted that they’ve petitioned Knights of Columbus leadership to have their council formally renamed St. Damien Council.

Smith said that on a certain level, Council 11411 is humbled by Blessed Damien because members don’t sacrifice their health daily as the soon-to-be-saint did. Even so, Mark Donoghue, deputy Grand Knight, said the council is profoundly guided by the spirit of his influence.

"It kind of becomes a way of life. We kind of spend our lives looking to assist others," he said.

Blessed Damien of Molokai fact sheet

Born: Jan. 3, 1840, at Tremelo, Belgium.

Ordained: May 21, 1864, at Honolulu, Hawaii.

Died: April 15, 1889, at Molokai, Hawaii.

Feast day: May 10 except in Hawaii, where it is celebrated on the date of his death, April 15.

Patronage: Spiritual patron for Hansen’s disease (leprosy), HIV and AIDS patients, and outcasts. Also the patron saint of Hawaii.

Steps to sainthood: Was made venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1977. Was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

Canonization: To be officiated by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 11, 2009, in St. Peter’s Square. Five others to be canonized then as well.

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