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As we entered the crypt area, I knew we were in a holy place. With its fresh flowers and lighted candles, it felt like a shrine that was cherished and cared for.

Correnti, Mike. 2005. Telephone interview by the author, September 16.

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Haskins, Jim. 1978. . New York: Stein and Day.

Herskovits, Melville J. 1964. . New York: Octagon Books.

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Doctors now know that leprosy is actually not very contagious and only a small percentage of the population is susceptible to it. But Father Damien was one of the unlucky ones. In 1884, after 12 years living in the colony, he began to experience the tell-tale sign of numbness in his feet. Gradually he came to share in the disfigurements and disabilities of his parishioners, finally succumbing to the disease in 1889 at the age of 49. In 1936 his remains were transferred to Leuven, which is near the village of his birth.

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When Father Damien arrived, conditions in the colony were wretched. Crime was rampant; misery ubiquitous. During his 16-year tenure there, he worked tirelessly to improve the lives of its more than 600 residents. Living among them, he bandaged wounds, dug graves, led services, organized schools and choirs, constructed a water system, founded two orphanages, and badgered the Hawaiian government for better housing and medical care for the colony.


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Keep in mind that this was during an era when leprosy was an incurable and terribly disfiguring disease. The government of the islands quarantined lepers in remote colonies, in fact, because of the fear that the contagion would spread. The colony on Molokai was particularly isolated, located on a strip of land separated from the mainland by a steep mountain ridge.