Damien of Molokai vs. Frances Perkins

Holy Blowout Week continued yesterday as Benedict took Anne to the (holy vestment) cleaners. Today, features the long-anticipated match-up between Big Pineapple and Big Lobster as the Hawaiian Damien of Molokai takes on the Mainer Frances Perkins. Can the Hawaii lobby do for Damien what it did for Queen Emma last year? Last year's Lent Madness cinderella, Emma, rode the wave all the way to the finals. Will Damien have a similar run or will he be pounded into the surf by Frances?

In other news, the Supreme Executive Committee answered some critics even as they prepare to co-lead a workshop today titled "Stealth Christian Formation" at the CEEP conference in San Diego. They're amazing multi-taskers (with enough coffee and a deadline).

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damidrawDamien of Molokai

Jozef de Veuster was born to a Flemish corn merchant in 1840. His fondest dream was to be a missionary-priest like his hero, St. Francis Xavier, but his teachers thought he was unintelligent and delayed his ordination. Finally, he was ordained, taking the name Damien and was eventually sent overseas, taking the place of his brother, who had fallen ill.

He arrived in the kingdom of Hawaii on March 19, 1864, and was assigned initially to his order’s mission on Oahu. But Damien had landed in a community struggling with the effects of colonialism, including foreign diseases to which Hawaiians had no immunity. One of these was leprosy, and in 1865, the kingdom’s government set up quarantines for the afflicted on the island of Molokai, fearing a complete epidemic.

The government’s plan was for the lepers’ colonies to grow their own food and to be largely self-sustaining. This plan had some major logic-holes in it, however, and after a while, it became clear to the local bishop that the people were in trouble. A priest was needed in Molokai but he was reluctant to assign anyone fearing the assignment would be tantamount to a death sentence.

After much prayer, in 1873, Damien volunteered. In May, he arrived in Molokai, and promptly set to work. He lived as one of the people. He set up a church, schools, and farms. He tended gardens and built houses. He organized activities and choirs for the living. He built coffins and dug graves for the dying. When his agreed-upon time was up, the lepers and Fr. Damien went to the bishop, and asked if he could remain with them. The bishop agreed, and Fr. Damien stayed on.

Six months after his arrival on Molokai, Damien wrote back to his brother in Belgium, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.” His words turned out to be prescient. In 1884 he was diagnosed with the disease himself and died on Molokai in April, 1889.

After his death, his fame spread. After being attacked by an anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister, Robert Louis Stevenson (yes, that Robert Louis Stevenson) wrote an open letter defending him, and no less than Mahatma Ghandi claimed Fr. Damien as an inspiration for his work with the outcast. He was made a saint in the Roman church in October of 2009.

Collect for Damien of Molokai
God of compassion, we bless your Name for the ministries of Damien [and Marianne,] who ministered to the lepers abandoned on Molokai in the Hawaiian Islands. Help us, following their examples, to be bold and loving in confronting the incurable plagues of our time, that your people may live in health and hope; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Megan Castellan

 perkinswithpressFrances Perkins

Born in Boston in 1880 with roots in Maine, Frances Perkins studied at Mount Holyoke College and completed a masters degree in economics and sociology at Columbia University. While working as a young woman in Chicago, she was drawn to the Episcopal Church and confirmed in 1905.

At 31, working for the Factory Investigation Commission in New York City, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that resulted in the death of 146 people, primarily young women factory workers. Perkins often said later, “The New Deal was born on March 25, 1911.” That experience galvanized her career as an advocate for workers. At a time when few women enjoyed a professional career after marriage and children, Perkins was spurred in her career by the emergence of her husband’s mental illness and his inability to earn an income. As the mother of a young daughter, she understood on a deep personal level the importance of work and the urgency of supporting a family.

In 1918, New York Governor Al Smith invited her serve in his administration and, with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to governor in 1928, she was named Commissioner of Labor. When he was elected to the presidency in 1932, Roosevelt asked Perkins to serve as his Secretary of Labor, the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet and the longest-serving cabinet member in U.S. history.

Roosevelt called her “the cornerstone of his administration” for her tireless work in gaining passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards of 1938 which established the minimum wage and prohibited child labor in most workplaces. Other New Deal efforts championed by Perkins included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), unemployment insurance, a shorter work week, and worker safety regulations.

She has been called Roosevelt’s moral conscience. Donn Mitchell, in his 2010 profile of Frances Perkins published at www.AnglicanExaminer.com, “Architect of the Gracious Society,” suggests she was the “most overtly religious and theologically articulate member of the New Deal team.” Throughout her 12 years as Secretary she took a monthly retreat with the Episcopal order of All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, with whom she was a lay associate

“I came to Washington to serve God, FDR, and millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen,” she said. Her theology of generosity informed her professional life and, in turn, transformed the lives of millions of Americans.

She remained active in teaching, social justice advocacy, and in the mission of the Episcopal Church until her death in 1965.

Collect for Frances Perkins  
Loving God, whose Name is blest for Frances Perkins, who lived out her belief that the special vocation of the laity is to conduct the secular affairs of society that all may be maintained in health and decency: Help us, following her example, to contend tirelessly for justice and for the protection of all in need, that we may be faithful followers of Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Heidi Shott

UPDATE: At 2:06 a.m. EST, the SEC noticed some irregular voting in this contest. About 200 votes were cast from one address in Arizona on behalf of Damien. Those votes have been deleted, and the address has been banned.


Damien of Molokai vs. Frances Perkins

  • Frances Perkins (50%, 2,339 Votes)
  • Damien of Molokai (45%, 2,107 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,444

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177 comments on “Damien of Molokai vs. Frances Perkins”

    1. As a social worker, I had to vote for my fellow social worker, Frances. When I first heard her story, it inspired me and as someone now partly dependent on social security, I have a new appreciation. She set up the social security act so that congress could not regularly raid it when they were in need of money. Hopefully, she is praying for us in the nearer presence of God in this present situation.

  1. This was a difficult choice but in the end I picked Francis. I did not know about her connection with Aa Saints Convent in Catonsville. They are a wonderful community. Religious communities are a wonderful and essential spiritual resource and life choice.

    1. I was sad when the sisters made the decision to separate from the Episcopal Church in September 2009. They are now a Roman Catholic community. I had an encounter with one of the sisters which will always stay with me.

  2. Damian was a brave man, who truly followed Christ as a religious. Frances saw the needs of the working poor and did something about it, following Christ in her time and place as a lay person. My early career in occupational health and learning about the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, living in Maine, getting Social Security, and going to the church that Frances Perkins attended, how could I not vote for her.

  3. I hope that all the laborers, women, and retirees who depend on Social Security get in their vote for Frances Perkins. Thanks to our "esteemed" governor, she has been poorly treated of late. I love the match ups between today's heroes and saints. It shows that Christ is very much at work in our modern world despite rumors to the contrary. These match-ups are also a great way to take the temperature and pulse of today's Church.
    Keep up the great work. My Lent is enriched by learning about those great men and women who have paved the way.

  4. Two remarkable servant people. I went with Francis due to a connection to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and because her devotion touched so many lives (still does), both in and out of the Episcommunity. Good choices whoever does the bracketing and great write-ups mighty CBs.

  5. Very tough choice today. Tons of respect for Frances Perkins, but had to go with Damien. Prediction: this will be neck and neck all day and Big Pineapple will put Damien over the top.

  6. This is a tough choice. I noted my affection for St. Francis Xavier during the battle of the "Iggys." So Damien's connection and profound ministry has always touched me deeply. But recent history with an Episcopalian who lived her life as a manifestation of her spirituality while serving in government gets my vote on the day when so many foolish and shortsighted politicians impose the implications of the sequester on all of us. Frances, we need to hear your voice again. Anyone who could get and keep Franklin Delano Roosevelt's attention is sorely needed now.

    1. Thanks, William, for saying it so well TODAY of all days (what are those people thinking?)! I was leaning toward Frances, though I've long admired Fr. Damien's astounding courage and dedication in the face of crippling, contagious disease and prejudice; you've pushed me over: Frances Perkins gets my vote for being a truly committed, public, least-of-these-minded follower of Christ in a world that even then was setting God aside and touting its own ability to save humanity.

  7. I remember Damien from earlier years, I think. And I think I voted for him in a previous bracket, unless there are multiple saints who lived with lepers in Hawaii. I am very impressed with Frances' bio. Even though I knew about her, I did not know of her religious faith and connections and that her faith had informed her work. This is an extremely difficult match-up. Today I will vote for Frances.

    1. There actually were several saints who lived with the colony at Molokai. Sr. Marianne Cope is also recognized as a saint in our church, and she followed on Damien's heels. She might be the person you remember.

  8. As a socialist, I'm all about the power of the people, making Frances a compelling selection. But how do deny a vote to someone who is a "leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ." Damien found a way to live the core of Christianity. So while Frances' actions are commendable, Daimen is truly saint-worthy. Vote Damien!

  9. Father Damien and the Pineapple Express! There was no hope for leprosy or Hansen's disease in those days. In his own way, the man was a miracle worker. He helped so many to live within the limits of their disease.

  10. Damien is an example of pure service to those who are most in need.

    Frances was a good, well meaning person in a corrupt circumstance whose great beginning has led us to the inevitable unintended consequences of the corrupted system we have today.

    1. I must agree with you, Russ. Damien put his whole life including the physical labor of caring for hi charges. Frances was indeed well-meaning, and I'm sure her intentions really grew out of her Christian faith; but in the end it was a matter of spending O(ther) P(eople's) M(oney), sometimes more wisely than others. I guess I should admit to some lack of enthusiasm for Socialism, even without Marxist overtones.

  11. This pair epitomizes the two responses a person of faith might take to sociopolitical evil: bottom-up and top-down. Or, to put it another way (either more or less crass depending on one's view): wholesale and retail.

    It's hard to choose between them. In both instances, in both milieux, the Body has a rightful and needful place, and each of these exemplars made a bold and, each in her or his own way, a heroic witness to the love of God.

    1. Both are powerful examples of faithfulness, and they are indeed models of two different ways of living out their faith. Since we have so few examples of holiness within the political sphere (apart from royalty, whom I don't count), and so great a need for more, I have to vote for Frances.

  12. This one will be close. They both are wonderful explars of "living the mission." I had to vote for Frances because of her New England roots!

  13. I voted for Damien but this battle did exactly what Lent Madness is designed to do. It introduced me to the life and witness of a saint of the church I had never heard of, Frances Perkins. I read her story and can only think, "may I go and do likewise!"

  14. And I thought this one would be easy with Damien of Molokai winning handily. After reading the bio of Frances Perkins it became clear how difficult this choice would be. While she represented the ‘forgotten man” of the 1930’s; it is the man who made himself “a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ” that gets my vote.

  15. I couldn't help but be reminded of the poem/song, "Bread and Roses" sung by Judy Collins:
    As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,For they are women's children, and we mother them again.Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women deadGo crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.The rising of the women means the rising of the race.No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
    It had to be Frances.

    1. Thanks for the ear-worm, John! I've got to pull it up and listen to it now...lol...but you are right, and that goes a long way to explain my early vote for Frances!

    2. Thanks, John! I too loved that song and listened to it many times (and cried) over the years. Tough choice, but ended up with Frances.

    3. Thanks for sharing the whole song. I've seen the title, but somehow missed the words.
      Still undecided on the vote, though.

  16. They're both so deserving of our votes!! The selfless giving of Damien was amazing, but for her important accomplishments for workers, I'll have to go w/Frances--loved her "going to DC to serve God, FDR & ..working..." Does anyone know more about the Marianne from Damien's collect to satisfy my curiosity? Thanks. Good luck in SD & enjoy their weather!

    1. I learned about Marianne when I was creating a book of reflections on the new calendar of Holy People for my parish: Eventually medical help came in the last years of Father Damien's life and other devoted individuals came to carry on his work. One of these was Mother Marianne a Franciscan nun who had early in life immigrated from Germany and had been a teacher as well as founder and director of a hospital in Syracuse, New York, when she was called to this new work to which she gave the rest of her life. At first, she worked in a hospital in Honolulu where patients were brought before confinement in the colony. Then she moved to Moloka’i where she cared for the ailing Father Damien and took over much of his work. Mother Marianne never contracted the disease herself, but remained in the colony, devotedly serving the people for 30 years until her own death.

  17. Lepers or those even suspected (or accused) of having the disease were summarily sailed over to Molokai from the other islands and, at some distance from the shore, were shoved into the sea to either sink or to swim to the island. Women were immediately abused and claimed by one or more of the men. Children usually died quickly. There was no law, order, justice, dependable food, clothing or shelter...only the brutality of those without hope, lost in hell, and suffering horribly. Fr. Damien chose to go there.

  18. This is a much harder choice than I expected it would be. I almost had to resort to the tossing of the sacred coin. But in the end, with an admiring nod to Ms. Perkins, I decided to Go Hawaiian. Fr. Damien's brave, loving ministry to the abandoned is deeply moving. He gave his all.

  19. Wow. Wow. Wow. One of the toughest choices so far, in a year of very tough choices. I knew a little bit about Damien. I knew nothing of Frances. I was thrilled to learn more about both. Damien's sacrafice and dedication were wonderful, but my heart is leaning towards Frances, for all she did for the American people in a time of need. Since I am a big fan of the works of the CCC, her involvement with that also swayed my vote.

    Besides, I suspect that Big Lobster needs more help than Big Pineapple.

  20. It is so interesting the way the lives of the saints we vote for intersect with the day's events. Today the sequester begins because so many view government as the enemy. Bashing government workers is common. Yesterday a bill was introduced (for the 10th time) to establish a study for a Women's History Museum on the Mall. Today Frances Perkins, who got my vote, exemplifies the effective and even holy work that government can accomplish. As I read the collect for Fr. Damien, I noticed Marianne in brackets. Who is she? I'd never heard of her. Strange since Damien has been one of my heroes since the beginning of the AIDs epidemic. So I wiki'ed her, found a new hero, and underscored the real need for a women's history museum. Too many women doing incredible work that we just don't know about until we dig deeply.

  21. I was all set to vote for Fr Damien - a true martyr and modern-day Francis. His biography is an inspiration to anyone (even Ghandi-ji!) I had never heard of Ms. Perkins. Once I read her bio, I knew Fr. Damien would want me to vote for her; that's the kind of man Damien was, and Ms. Perkins gifts to me are too precious not to acknowledge today.

    1. Thank you, Peach. I was having a very tough time making my decision, but you cleared my mind. I will vote for Ms. Perkins who not only did good for 1000,s but had to deal with her husband's mental illness. No one knows what that is like. Still I wish such two deserving people have to be pitted against each other so early in the brackets.

  22. Great match up, difficult choice. I went with Frances; a wife, a mother surrounded by difficult choices. She served well and her legacy continues (and yes, I grant that not all will find this a good thing) and serves as a beacon to laity engaged in living their faith in the world.

  23. Powerful stories, each of them! Both gave their lives for the poor and outcast, but judging from the goosebumps that I feel when I read of Damien's sacrifice, I had to go for him.

  24. I'd say this was a diabolical match up but Damien and Frances are truly icons of Christ and the Gospel. Beth, I agree! Frances does serve as a beacon to laity engaged in living their faith in the world. She shows us what it means to be Christian.