April 15 – Suchias of Georgia; Joseph de Veuster

Suchias of Georgia and his companions (d. 100 or 123 or 130) were dignitaries at the court of Caucasian Albania (modern-day Azerbaijan) tasked with escorting 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 (Oct 28), preach at Armenian Square Gardens[1]. 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. They declined to be fetched, however, so they were nailed to the ground and then burned. Their relics lay on the ground, incorrupt, for centuries (this mountain was clearly not on a major thoroughfare) before they were buried. Later Gregory the Enlightener of Armenia (Sep 30) built a church on the spot, and a spring of curative water sprang up for curing things.

Joseph de Veuster (1840–1889), aka Father Damien of Molokai, was 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 (aka “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, was denied because he wasn’t yet ordained, but was later 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 (concerning which I could find no details, dang it).

When volunteers were sought for the leper colony on Molokai, Damien signed on, despite government regulations stipulating that anyone who went there could never leave. At the time lepers were basically sent there to die. There was no medical care, and they were supplied only with occasional food drops. Damien tended to the spiritual needs of the colonists, but also to their physical needs—cleansing their wounds; building homes, furniture, and coffins; and digging graves. Under his care 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.)

Father Damien 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:

[W]hen 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.


[1]Name supplied by current author.