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Odd Wisconsin Archive

St. Damien's Wisconsin Assistant


Pope Benedict XVI canonized five new saints Sunday, including Jozef De Veuster (1840-1889), a 19th century priest more commonly known as Father Damien. St. Damien worked with ostracized leprosy patients on Molokai, an isolated Hawaiian island, until he contracted the disease himself and died in 1889. By then he had been joined by Joseph Dutton (1843-1931) of Beloit, who carried on the work for another four decades.

Dutton had served with the 13th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War, mostly tending the sick and burying the dead. Afterwards, he stayed in the South tracing missing soldiers, collecting their remains, and settling survivors' claims. These horrors and a failed marriage led him into alcoholism, and by his own account he spent the next decade in a drunken stupor.

When he emerged from the gutter in 1876, he began to study religion and in 1883 joined the Trappist Monastery at Gethsemane, Kentucky. After hearing about the work of Fr. Damien De Veuster (now St. Damien) in 1886, Dutton made his way to Hawaii, where he introduced himself as "Brother Joseph" and joined the tiny relief corps at Damien's colony of exiled native Hawaiian lepers.

He remained there as a lay brother until his death in 1931, building latrines, bandaging sores, cleaning clinics, and serving meals to the diseased and despised. Brother Joseph Dutton accepted no pay and directed that his military pension be given to the monks at Gethsemane. His letters, reminiscences, and other personal papers are in the Society Archives. Brother Dutton also donated a rosary of St. Damien's and other artifacts to the Society.


:: Posted in Odd Lives on October 11, 2009

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