Susan Ciancio explores ways our children can imitate the example of St. Damien of Molokai, a true Catholic hero.
Saints are the real-life heroes we look to as examples for how to model our own lives. And they are the people whose lives we use as lessons as we teach our children to navigate our turbulent world. The saints help us understand God’s love, His charity, His compassion, His forgiveness, and so much more. St. Damien of Molokai is someone we can look to as we try to become more compassionate.
Born in Belgium in 1840, the man who would later be Fr. Damien joined the priesthood at the age of 19. Five years later, he was ordained a priest and began his ministry in Hawaii. For nearly 10 years, he traveled throughout the island teaching the word of God. When he heard that the people living in the leper colony on the island of Molokai were entrenched in a life of immorality and drunkenness, he felt called to minister to them. Knowing he would likely catch the disease and die there, St. Damien volunteered to go anyway. For 16 years, he lived among the lepers, helping them build houses, teaching them about Christ, loving them, and helping them understand that they still had dignity despite their illness.
St. Damien cared for people no one wanted to even look at. He taught them about Christ. And he made them believe that, despite their awful illness, they still had value.
We can learn so much from St. Damien, but here are five simple ways we can use his example to teach our kids to be more saintlike:
- St. Damien teaches us what a true hero is.
A true hero protects others and is an example of Christ’s love. We can teach our children to emulate him by teaching them how to stand up for their little brothers and sisters, by teaching them to stand up for someone who’s being bullied on the playground, and by teaching them to stand up for their faith. These behaviors will make them feel powerful, and when they feel powerful, they will be more willing to continue these heroic actions.
- St. Damien teaches us how to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
St. Damien took care of the people in the leper colony, not just spiritually but physically as well. He helped them build houses, taught them how to use utensils, taught them to make their own clothes, and more, all while teaching them about Christ’s love for them. We can use his example to teach our children the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. And we can help them identify which ones they can do on their own — such as pray for others, feed the hungry, or clothe the naked.
- St. Damien teaches us to see Christ in others.
People were disgusted by the lepers; they were repulsed by their sores and wounds. But St. Damien didn’t see ugly lepers. He saw children of Christ. We can teach our children to see Christ in all people by repeatedly talking about how Christ is in all of us. We live that belief and let our kids see our example. We expose them to many different kinds of people and have conversations about how all people are made in the image and likeness of God, regardless of how they look on the outside. When kids grow up looking for Christ in others, it will be much easier to find Him.
- St. Damien teaches us to give of ourselves.
St. Damien literally gave his life to help others better their own lives and to save them spiritually. Most of us aren’t called to actually give our lives for others, but we can give of ourselves every day. We can teach our children to pray and fast for others. We can teach them the value of time and how giving their time and attention to a little sibling or a sad friend can make a huge difference in their lives. And we can teach them the inherent value of suffering — that when they suffer, they can offer it up for someone who is hurting or for a soul in Purgatory.
- St. Damien teaches us to find strength in God.
There were times when St. Damien felt lonely, but he found solace in his faith. Sometimes we—or our children—feel lonely too. We must work every day to increase and strengthen our faith. We can teach our children to always seek out God, Mary, and the saints when we need help. Create a prayer journal with your children and write when prayers are answered. Talk about how God answers prayers in ways we may not understand and that prayers are not always answered right away.
St. Damien is a true Catholic hero — one who teaches us how to be more compassionate and loving to others who are not like us. We need his example now more than ever.
The Culture of Life Studies Program has a beautiful lesson on St. Damien for 5th-6th graders. Everyone should know about the heroic life of this great saint, so you can adapt this lesson for both younger and older kids. Right now, use the code WILLIAM to get 20% off this lesson. Visit our store for either the digital copy or the print copy.
Copyright 2020 Susan Ciancio
Images (top to bottom): By Henry L. Chase - Hawaii State Archives Law, Anwei Skinsnes (2012) Kalaupapa: A Collective Memory (Ka Hokuwelowelo), Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 118 ISBN: 978-0-8248-6580-1. OCLC: 830023588., Public Domain; Annie Spratt (2019), Unsplash
About the Author
Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer. She is executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program and editor of ALL's Celebrate Life Magazine.