God’s Athlete

St. Damien of Molokai lived his calling in a very physical, sacramental way.

God’s Athlete

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The most famous photograph we have of him was taken just a few weeks before his death.

It depicts a priest in a faded black cassock, wearing a battered hat whose sides are held up by string. His black beard is thick and unruly, shot through with patches of grey and white. The flesh of his hands and face is mottled and marked with sores, signs of the disease that would soon take his life.

The image is well known because many feel it captures the essence of Fr. Damien de Veuster, who lived among those suffering from leprosy—now known as Hansen’s Disease—and eventually contracted the disease himself. It depicts a body weakened by age and disease, a body “poured out as a libation” (Philippians 2:17) in the service of others.

This photograph, though, tells only part of Damien’s story. It shows him in a period of physical decline. Yet if there was…

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