Damien of Molokai vs. Pandita Ramabai

Happy Monday! Grab your coffee and read some compelling stories about two saintly souls as we start another full week of the world's most popular online Lenten devotion. We didn't necessarily realize their names rhymed when we paired Damien of Molokai with Pandita Ramabai but, as this seems to be the Year of the Limerick in Lent Madness, it somehow feels appropriate.

On Friday, Photini aka The Woman at the Well made it past Ananias aka The Guy Who Helped out Saul/Paul 64% to 36% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen. She'll face Tabitha in a sure-to-be heart-wrenching matchup.

Stay tuned later today for another sure-to-be scintillating episode of Monday Madness as Tim and Scott highlight the week to come.

Damien of Molokai

DamienFather Damien of Molokai was born Joseph de Veuster on January 3, 1840, in rural Belgium. The youngest of seven siblings, Joseph was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as a farmer. However, God had other plans for Joseph, and he heard a calling to follow his two older brothers into monastic life. Upon coming of age and entering the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Mary and Jesus, Joseph followed Roman Catholic tradition and took on the name of a sixth-century martyr, Damien of Syria.

Damien was known for praying fervently to Saint Francis Xavier to be sent on a mission. Little did Damien know but his prayers would soon be answered. In 1864, Damien’s brother suddenly became ill, and Damien found himself taking his brother’s place on a mission to Hawai’i.

Upon arrival to the islands, Damien was ordained to the priesthood and settled into a life of spreading the word of God. In 1866, Hawai’i established a leper colony at Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai. Leprosy, or Hanson’s Disease, was rapidly decimating native Hawaiians as their immune systems were unfamiliar with the disease brought by missionaries and other foreign visitors. In a mistaken attempt to control the spread of disease, the Hawaiian monarchy began sending leprosy patients to the remote peninsula of Kalaupapa. Flanked by soaring cliffs, deep ravines, and unforgiving topography, the peninsula ensured there was only one way in (by boat) and no way out for those banished from their homes, families, and friends.

Following a visit to the colony, Damien was dismayed by the poor living conditions, lack of resources, and inhumane treatment of the lepers. He began building homes for the patients, a church (St. Philomena, which stands today), established standards for cleanliness, implemented education plans for the young and old, and ensured the sick were cared for and the dead buried. In each patient, he saw Jesus staring back at him. Damien relocated permanently to Kalaupapa despite the church’s warnings that he would be exposing himself to infection. Damien is said to have replied, “I make myself a leper with the lepers, to gain all to Jesus Christ.” In 1885, Damien contracted leprosy and lived with the agonizing disease for four years before his death in 1889.

Collect for Damien of Molokai
Bind up the wounds of your children, O God, and help us, following the example of your servant Damien, to be bold and loving in service to all who are shunned for the diseases they suffer, that your grace may be poured forth upon all; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Anna Fitch Courie

Pandita Ramabai

Pandita_RamabaiBorn as Rama Dongre in 1858 in Gangamoola, India, to Brahmin parents, Pandita Ramabai was a champion of women’s rights and a social reformer. Despite the many prohibitions against women, Ramabai’s father, a Sanskrit scholar, taught his daughter the Hindu sacred texts. After his death, she continued his research and teaching at Calcutta University and was the first woman to be awarded the title Pandita for her scholarship.

She married a Bengali man outside her caste, which was socially frowned upon in her time. Her enlightened husband shared her passion for women’s issues, and they hoped to start a school for widowed child-brides, but he died less than two years after their marriage. They had one daughter, who worked closely with her mother, though she died suddenly a year before Ramabai’s death in 1922.

Ramabai continued her work on women’s issues, promoting education and an end to child marriage. To Lord Ripon’s Education Commission, she suggested that because men are not supportive of women’s education, women themselves should be trained as teachers and school inspectors in India. Additionally, she argued that if according to custom only a woman could provide medical care for gynecological issues, then women should be allowed to study medicine in order to do so. This sensational advice was carried all the way to Queen Victoria. The next year, Ramabai went to Britain to study medicine. There she converted to Christianity after spending time with the Wantage Sisters, an Anglican religious community. She also joined a mission that ministered to former prostitutes.

Ramabai returned to India and started the Mukti Mission, a home for widows and orphans. As a supporter of the movement for Indian freedom from colonial rule, Ramabai was one of ten female delegates of the Indian Congress of 1889. She translated the Bible into Marathi, the language of her birth, spoken in Western India. To this day, her Mukti Mission in Mumbai still provides the same much-needed services that Ramabai first offered more than a century ago.

Collect for Pandita Ramabai
Everliving God, you called the women at the tomb to witness to the resurrection of your Son: We thank you for the courageous and independent spirit of your servant Pandita Ramabai, the mother of modern India; and we pray that we, like her, may embrace your gift of new life, caring for the poor, braving resentment to uphold the dignity of women, and offering the riches of our culture to our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-Amber Belldene

Damien of Molokai vs. Pandita Ramabai

  • Pandita Ramabai (50%, 4,277 Votes)
  • Damien of Molokai (50%, 4,232 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,509

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Damien of Molokai: By William Brigham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Pandita Ramabai: By Ramabai Sarasvati, Pandita, 1858-1922 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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188 comments on “Damien of Molokai vs. Pandita Ramabai”

  1. Though he knew well the risk of infection
    Father Damien maintained his direction,
    By the Word and by deeds
    Eased his sufferers’ needs;
    Which why I support his election.

    1. Mine, too. He knew the risks and chose to remain with his congregation. All honor to Pandita, but I'm rooting for Damien to win the Golden Halo. When I saw his name and Wilberforce's on the bracket, I knew immediately that I wanted either one to win.

    2. I'm with you, Judith. I think for the first time in my Lent Madness career, I may be flipping a coin.

  2. Today's tribute to Damien and Pandita can be sung to "Oh, What a Circus" from the musical "Evita." See you on the balcony of the Casa Rosada!

    The 19th Cent’ry – in ’89,
    All of Molokai wailed and moaned
    Over the death of a priest who served lepers exiled.
    It was Hawai’i.
    But far from the luaus, the surfboards, and leis.
    Father Damien made a place
    Where their dignity’s raised.

    He knew the dangers, but said, “That’s fine.
    As a leper, I’ll serve my own
    And bring to Christ Jesus these lepers reviled.”
    St. Philomena’s:
    The church that he built is still standing today
    And where Damien’s plans bore fruit.
    Chaos and doom went away.

    He started his life Joe de Veuster,
    Just one of seven born of a farmer.
    But like two brothers,
    Joe joined the friars.
    His mission lead to
    This life inspired…

    Born high-caste Brahmin, a woman taught,
    Rama Dongre brought reform –
    Women should not be denied just because of their sex.
    "Our girls can be teachers and doctors!" she’d yell.
    Her efforts gained traction there
    And in England as well.

    Ramabai’s treatise
    Made it to Queen Victoria.
    She went to Britain as a student
    To learn and train as a doctor.
    But she converted…
    Served as a nun to ex-harlots.
    Returning to start the Mukti Mission:
    A home for widows and orphans.

    First woman to be called Pandita.
    Translates the Bible into Marathi.
    She served on Congress
    And her attendance
    Helped with the progress
    Towards independence.

    1. Yeah, these two's stories don't lend themselves to comedy, do they? But you do pathos well, and I love the choice of music. It gives them the gravitas they deserve!

    2. Yep - you’ve done it again! Thanks for starting off this week with another saintly song!

    3. Inspiring poem. A vote for Pandita is not a vote against Damien. I am grateful to Lent Madness, once again, for giving us reason to meditate on goodness in the world.

    4. I they have not hired you yet for Lent Madness 2020 then they do not care about keeping this exercise fresh! Thank you for your daily contributions which I look forward to eagerly!

  3. I had never heard of Pandita before Lent Madness! I was inspired by her story, so must #VotePandita

  4. I always look forward to meeting an inspiring new saint of two during Lent Madness, so it was a joy to meet Pandita. I have voted for her today.

  5. As a graduate of the University of Hawaii, I must stay loyal to Father Damien, although Pandita is compelling

  6. In a Lent Madness I am not finding very inspiring, these two are wonderful. I voted for Pandita, but they are both so deserving.

    1. I agree with you, Carolyn. Many times this season I didn't want to vote for either, and today I wish I could vote for both!

  7. As much as I initially thought to myself that Fr. Damien would be the victor here because of his empathy, and because I had never heard of Pandita, boy, was I wrong. In her honor, and in thanks to the smart, intelligent, strong and highly educated women I have met from India, Pandita gets the nod, and we all win.

  8. Thank you for the opportunity to discover these two wonderful saints. Both are impressive, but my vote goes to Pandita who not only worked for the poor and vulnerable but challenged the authorities of the day to take action. I have also visited the Sisters at Wantage so vote in thanksgiving for their ministry.

  9. I too expecting to vote for Fr. Damien. I had never heard of Pandita. It was a tough choice, but she gets my vote today,

  10. Having visited a leper colony in Tanzania, I saw the devastating effects of this disease. To think of someone like Damien voluntarily working and ministering to these abandoned people and eventually succumbing to the same disease is truly sacrificial. My vote is Damien!

  11. Pandita Ramabai is so impressive, so involved in everything I hold important, and so amazing that she was able to do all she did in an extremely male-dominated society. Even the honorific name Pandita is generally applied only to men, if I understand correctly. However, my vote goes to Father Damien, who walked the walk of Jesus, reaching out to the lepers, improving their lives, and sharing their fate unto death

  12. I am so excited. Over 40 years ago I spent some of my gap year volunteering at the Pandita Ramabai Mission in Maharashtra but I have NEVER EVER since heard or seen her mentioned anywhere! Of course I have voted for her.

    1. That's wonderful! I had never heard of her either, but I have a particular affection for India and the ongoing plight of countless women and children, so my vote is with Pandita also.

  13. Had to vote for Damien. As impressive as Pandita is, Damien literally gave his life for the lepers.

  14. Remembering my grandmother who was born in Hawai'i :, my immigrant family members who were ostracized both because of their race and contraction of Hanson’s Disease, our Saviour who reached out to the outcast, including the ten lepers, today my vote goes to Fr. Damien and all who do the quiet, much need part of bringing God's Light into the world.

  15. I love Lent Madness this year. The saints are less familiar and the writings are more informative (by intent, I suspect). I am inspired and grateful.

  16. Both of today's candidates are inspiring but I cast my vote with Pandita. She has something in common with Hannah Grier Coome (who faced off a few weeks ago against Richard Allen): Both of them developed attachments with the Wantage Sisters' community in England. All part of the Lent Madness Circle of Synchronicity!

  17. Now this is more like it! Two very real people, two very real followers of our Lord, two very real contenders for the Golden Halo. This was a choice that needed to be made with prayer! Much as I was moved by Pandita's story, my heart is with Father Damien, and he gets my vote today. Thank you for restoring an element of sanity and reality into Lent Madness.

  18. This is the first matchup this year where I found it nearly impossible to choose - both so inspiring. In the end I had to choose Pandita for the sheer breadth of her work.

  19. Greatly admire Pandita Ramabai for her service and devotion to her people, but I have always had a soft spot for Saint Damien. (Especially since reading Alan Brennert’s Molokai!) Damien gets my vote today.

  20. "In each patient, he saw Jesus staring back at him." For that moving description of his life's work and ministry, and as a hospice professional, my vote today must go to Fr Damien.

  21. Indeed, two inspiring candidates for Halo-hood! My vote comes down on the side of Pandita, for her steadfast work for women and for inspiring Queen Victoria to bring her to England to become a doctor. I sure Pandita faced challenges because of her sex and race everyday, but she kept fighting and achieved so much.

  22. Oh, so not fair. Two saints that I admire pitted against each other and on a MONDAY no less. I had to almost finish my coffee before I could bring myself to a vote.

  23. I voted for Damien because he did what he did for Christ, and it cost him his life. I don't want to diminish what Pandita did, but she did her work as part of what she personally thought was right, not because she was dedicated to Christ.

  24. If anyone is interested in reading about what the true situation was in Hawaii and the Lepers they should look to a book titled "The Colony". Having read that book as much as I can rejoice in Pandita's mission and it's lasting effects, I could not vote for her. The reality of the colony on Molokai, the deep rooted anger and fear that created the handling of those sent there and Fr. Damien's service and love for the people who were eaten away by the disease (the most unlovable), won my vote today. Not because he put himself in death's path we are all on that path, nor that he picked a horrible manner, but he saw life amid the death and nurtured it.

  25. This was a really hard one, and it appears so far that the community as a whole agrees with me, including my reluctant choice to vote for Ramabai, though I hate dissing Fr. Damien whom I admire immensely too. I just find Ramabai such a fascinating and little-known character. And ironically probably the fact that I'm now RC makes me less likely to vote for Fr. Damien. Back when I was Protestant and my grandmother (who admired him and wrote about him) made disparaging comparisons between him and the evangelical missionary Mary Slessor, I was more of a champion of Fr. Damien. Now that he's on "my team" I want to vote for Ramabai 🙂

  26. I want this one to be a tie, so I'll vote later for whoever is behind.
    Wonderful saints today!