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April 15 Saints of the Day – Suchias of Georgia and Joseph de Veuster

On this date in 1924, Rand McNally published its first road atlas. Early sales were sluggish because customers wanted something harder to re-fold.

Suchias of GeorgiaOur eastern saints today are the martyr Suchias and his companions (d. 100 or 123 or 130). Dignitaries at the court of Caucasian Albania (modern-day Azerbaijan), they escorted the ruler’s daughter, who was also the wife of the Emperor of Armenia (her bona fides were muy bona), to the Armenian capital of Artashat. Once they dropped her off, they went to hear Chrysos, a disciple of the Apostle Thaddeus, who was preaching at Armenian Square Gardens. They all came to believe, and followed Chrysos into the Mesopotamian wilderness, where he baptized them in the waters of the Euphrates. After Chrysos was martyred (about which I could find nothing), Suchias took over the company, by then something of a proto-monastery. They lived on a mountain named after their leader, and ate only wild veg.

When the new Albanian ruler learned of their defection, he sent soldiers to fetch them back. They weren’t interested in coming back, however, so they were martyred by being nailed to the ground, and then burned. Their relics laid on the ground, incorrupt, for centuries (this mountain was clearly not on a major thoroughfare), until they were buried. Later Gregory the Enlightener of Armenia built a church on the spot, and a spring of curative water sprang up for curing things.

Father DamienOur western saint today is Joseph de Veuster (1840 – 1889), also known as Father Damien of Molokai. Born in Flanders and educated at the College of Braine-du-Comte (“hit the Count on the head”), he took the name Damien when he joined the Picpus Fathers (also known as “the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar” — you can see why people just say “Picpus”). He volunteered for missionary work in the South Pacific, but was denied because he wasn’t yet ordained, but was allowed because somebody else got sick and couldn’t go. He was ordained in Honolulu and sent to the far side of the big island, where he missionaried for nine years among the volcanoes, mudslides, and ghoulish pagan rituals (don’t ask).

When volunteers were wanted for the leper colony on Molokai, Damien signed on, despite the new government regulations stipulating that anybody who went there must stay there. At the time it was merely a dumping place where lepers were left to die without medical care, supplied only with occasional food drops (my sources don’t say, but I don’t imagine it was filet mignon). Damien tended to the spiritual needs of the colonists, but also to their physical needs — cleansing their wounds, building homes and furniture and coffins, and digging graves. During his time there, the island went from a desolate human dumping ground to an ordered colony with painted houses, schools, and working farms. (Few touring acts stopped by, though.)

He discovered he had contracted leprosy when he put his foot in a basin of scalding water but couldn’t feel it. Four others then came to work on the island (a priest, a nun, a soldier, and a male nurse), taking over the work and tending Damien in his last days. After he died, the Rev. Charles Hyde, a Presbyterian minister in Honolulu, published a letter referring to the good Father as coarse, dirty, and careless. Hyde was excoriated by Robert Louis Stevenson (of Treasure Island fame), whose rebuttal ran, in part, as follows:

But, sir, when we have failed, and another has succeeded; when we have stood by, and another has stepped in; when we sit and grow bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain, uncouth peasant steps into the battle, under the eyes of God, and succours the afflicted, and consoles the dying, and is himself afflicted in his turn, and dies upon the field of honour — the battle cannot be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has suggested. It is a lost battle, and lost for ever. One thing remained to you in your defeat — some rags of common honour; and these you have made haste to cast away.

BAM.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography
April 15 (Wikipedia)
Martyr Suchias and his Soldiers in Georgia (OCA) – Main source
Joseph de Veuster (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Father Damien (Wikipedia)
Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Wikipedia)

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About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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