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. P.S. With others, I agree - this is the toughest matchup I can recall.

    The Spirit moves in mysterious ways this Lent. I mean, who would have thought the marvelous John Cabot could rescue limericks from infamy as he so soundly has?

    And Michael Wachter's musical salutes ... WOW.

    I'm sure I'm not alone in noting these guys post at 8:02 am EDT. How the heck do they DO that??

    1. I suspect they have a Saintly Scorecard and read ahead and made their decisions, or began writing the song long before Lent Madness started. When I finally voted at 4:30 today I was pleasantly surprised to see a tied vote. What does happen if, at the end of today the actual numbers are the same?

  2. Ramabai worked hard and faced battles, but not ones that would lead to slow painful death. Father Damien willingly out of love, against advice of his elders, sacrificed himself knowing he very likely would join his patients in pain and death. Father Damien! With a strong nod to the wonders of antibiotics.

  3. Both saints are compelling candidates, but Fr. Damien joined a community drenched in loss and death to bring living water. He looked into their faces and saw Christ in each one. They looked into his face and saw not fear or loathing but love.

  4. One important aspect of Fr. Damien's story that stood out for me today is that the illness he was willing to contract and die from was one brought to the people of Hawai'i by colonizers. That detail doesn't really have anything to do with Fr. Damien, who responded in the most Christlike way possible, I think; but it's something we should be mindful of.

    And Ramabai's work began well before her conversion. The work she accomplished might well have been done completely outside the Christian faith. There are saints in many traditions!

    1. Oh, good point, Elaine! I loved that her dad taught her the sacred texts, and she studied Hinduism, then Christianity, and made a choice of head and heart. Hmmm, I may be leaning toward Pandita!

  5. It’s a tossup for us today! Both are very worthy, so Pandita it is by the flip of a coin. We’d be happy if either of them made it to the Golden Halo.

  6. Child marriage in 2019 is still a huge problem worldwide and especially in the US. Women’s access to trained medical doctors is a huge problem in countries where women are not permitted to work, let alone to be educated.
    Pandita Ramabai’s story sheds light on both of these important issues, during Women’s History Month, no less. She gets my vote.

  7. Pandita Ramabai. "The mother of modern India." The ne plus ultra of Social Justice Warriors. Very impressive.

  8. Although Pandita Ramabai must have been a remarkable lady deserving a halo, I’m going for Damien today as my grandfather when state surgeon in Malaya at the end of the 1800s worked with the lepers and set up new treatments and activities for them and is still remembered today for his pioneering work.

  9. I was well aware of Damien and his wonderful works, but had never heard of Pandita. She who worked so hard for women’s rights has been essentially ignored by the church. Time to change that! My vote is for Pandita.

  10. Imua, Damien! (Go, Damien!) He gave his all, lovingly and sacrificially, for the very neighbors Jesus implored us to love and care for. Pandita is admirable, but it's Damien all the way for me, and not just because I was born on Molokai! (On the other side of the island -- my dad's career was with Del Monte Pineapple.) Off and on over the past 5o years, after quarantine was lifted when understanding of and treatment for Hansen's Disease had improved, there have been mule ride tours down and back up the steep and treacherous cliffs separating the Kalaupapa peninsula from the rest of the island. (Too steep for human hikers, but the mules are amazingly sure-footed!) The tours of Kalaupapa, led (at least when I went in the 1980s) by patients who chose to stay out their lives there after quarantine ended, are very moving. I remember especially the grooves cut through the floor in front of every pew in St. Philomena's Church. As patients lost tissue and muscle control, many of them needed to drool and spit frequently. So Damien made sure they could discreetly do so during mass through holes to the ground beneath the church. For this act of compassion alone, I'd say his sainthood is well earned.

  11. My vote today honors Damien Ministries in Washington DC who helped people with AIDS in the ‘80s...

    1. It was the example of St. Damien that guided me on how to respond in 1981 in San Francisco to those first being struck down! Serve them!

      Praise God for his example! Praise my parochial school for having us read Fr. Damien and the Lepers in 1959!

  12. Glad Pandita was a "social justice warrior" but I don't think that's what we're voting for this year. We served in Hawaii, and Damien was clearly the voice and face and hands of Christ in a circumstance where too many of his "missionary" predecessors did well for themselves by supposedly "doing good."

    1. Oh, but Len, I think that protecting little girls from becoming child brides, and saving women from untimely death resulting from childbirth, rape, gynecological issues, abusive relationships, and giving them the knowledge to protect themselves and their children from predatory legal issues and crime is equally serving Christ. In fact, I'd say Jesus was a pretty strong social justice warrior. His whole life was lived in service to the sick, poor, and ostracized.

  13. Today has been a REALY hard choice! As a feminist, nurse, and distantly related to Elizabeth CADY Stanton, I am drawn to Ramabai BUT Fr. Damian's work in the least almost us at risk to his own health wins me over.

  14. It's rather unfortunate that two number one seeds were pitted against each other so early in March madness.

  15. Never having been to India and just back from Hawaii have to vote for Molokai. And his passion for those forsaken to death is quite a sacrifice making what we do pale in comparison to his work. Give me the strength to do my part.

  16. While they are both admirable, Damien has always had a special place in my heart. He willing went into a situation knowing he would most likely die. What an act of love.

  17. This is a tough one! Both are so deserving! Yet I went with Pandita because she was so ahead of her time. I am a retired physician and am grateful that she saw the need for women to be educated and especially, to be educated in medicine. This is a challenge even today in developing countries. I am also grateful that both she and her husband had the courage to follow their love for one another in spite of the caste system.

  18. Hard one today. While I feel drawn to support women who dedicate their lives to the service and education of others, having lived in Hawaii for a couple of years early on I learned about Damien and my vote goes to him today for his gift of his very life for those who were marginalized and isolated through no fault of their own.

  19. This is a tough choice! Such brilliant, compassionate people. Do we get to have a tie today?
    Reluctantly I chose Pandita Ramabai. Father Damien deserves a halo as well.

  20. This is such a hard pairing! I don’t want to say how I voted because I could have voted for either of them. The shame is one of them will loose today!

  21. A difficult decision. Both Saints had extremely important missions.
    I do not consider either of these Saints modern. The two wonderful Saints we encountered today simply do not encounter a world like our own. Contemporary Saints are needed to address the issues of our times. Referring on the themes of faith and politics, and martyrdom are important resources for Christian thinking and action in our world today. Oscar Romero is one such saint who was executed in 1971.

  22. What an agonizing choice today! Both saints are so worthy of the vote. I had never heard of Pandita Ramabai before and was fully expecting to vote for Damien. But my admiration goes for Pandita Ramabai, since she is a woman who struggled on behalf of women. I will be just as happy if Damien wins the vote.

  23. I found Pandita's story interesting and inspiring, as a woman called to ordained ministry at a time when there were precious few of us. However, much of her work was done before her conversion to Christianity. That doesn't negate her importance in the history of India, but...Anyway, remembering the early days of my "final" career as a hospital chaplain, when AIDS was raging and taking many of our friends and acquaintances and patients, how scared I was, especially before the training we got in infection control. God gave me courage and strength when I needed it, enabling me to minister to AIDS patients, as well as the others. I have to go with Damien. God gave him courage and strength to minister to the lepers' colony, and enabled him to love the people he found there, to see Jesus in each of them. He was given such wisdom, providing for even the least of their needs...

  24. Couldn't read anything with that awful purple background. So I voted for Damien since of him I know. Please go back to a white background. This one actually makes my eyes hurt.

    1. Something isn’t loading right in your browser.

      Try using a different browser, especially if you are using Internet Explorer*. Or clear your browser history, make sure all available software updates are installed, then restart your computer/tablet/smart phone.

      If the issue persists, depending on your operating system, check out either support.microsoft.com or getsupport.apple.com for further assistance.

      *I used to do web design. Internet Explorer has a habit of not displaying websites the same as Safari/Google Chrome/Firefox/Opera et cetra . . . .

  25. At least we have an actual contest today. Lent "Yawn" Madness is yet so predictable. My suggestion for next year is to ONLY have contestants who are women of color...that will be a contest. My guess is Pandita will win, though I believe this time Damien deserves the win. If you are playing Lent Madness to win...remember...vote for the woman or person of color, if up against a male, particularly of European decent or depicted as such by artists...the woman/person of color will win 90% of the time. The predictability sort of takes the fun out of the game.

    1. Really? So far this year there have been seven matchups with one man and one woman (including Dominic vs. Marina the Monk). 4 of those 7 were won by the woman (Tabitha/Dismas, Ananias/Photini, Dominic/Marina, Phillips Brooks/Marguerite d'Youville) and 3 by the man (John Chrysostom/Margaret of Cortona, William Wilberforce/Agatha Lin Zhao, Hannah Greier Coome/Richard Allen). 4/7 is not 90%.

      In the second round there are two certain man/woman pairings (Martha/Nicodemus, Ignatius/Marina), one that will be man/woman since the unknown against Zenaida is either Nichols of Myra or Rudolph of Gubbio, and one that could be man/woman or woman/woman depending on who wins today. Now I am interested to continue the statistical analysis.

      I am not touching the person of color question, in many cases that is not known.

      And if LM this year makes you yawn, that is your prerogative. Personally I'm not in it for the win, I'm in it for the learning.

      1. The learning, the community, and, of course, the laughter! Thank you for your comment; I didn't quite know how to respond to that comment in a positive way.

        1. Come on now. Let’s give Damien a chance at the Golden Halo! He’s been nominated several times over the years yet never advances. It’s time to honor Damien for his tenacity in loving those who lived unloved, just as Christ teaches us.

    2. How sad that you are so cynical. And so morally and mathematically challenged. I did a very quick check of the winners of the last nine years of Lent Madness (it only seems as if this pious practice has been around since the desert fathers and mothers). Of the nine winners, five were European White Males (EWM: pronounced "uuhhhmmmm"). That is 55%. They were George Herbert, C.S. Lewis, Charles Wesley, Francis the Saint not Francis the pope, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All highly European, highly male, even masculine. If we include the two white women, Florence Nightingale and Frances Perkins, as Awards Given to White People, we have 7/9, or 78%. TWO of the golden haloes have been given to Women of Color (or WOC, rhymes with "rocks your world"): Mary Magdalene (not a white woman, sorry to break it to you) and Anna Alexander. Actual winners who were women of color comprise 22% of the total. So, still a minority. If I were on the NYT or WaPo website right now, I would assume you were yet another Russian tr0ll and would be ignoring you. Instead I'll say a quick prayer (22% sincere) for your conversion to reason if not faith and remind you that since this isn't fun for you, you can go elsewhere. Breitbart is desperate for more bitter white men on its site.

      1. Well said. Thank you for this interesting information. I love statistics, especially accurate ones!!!

      2. Oh, thank you and bless you for doing the survey, statistics, and percentages. I guess the white men need their own "metoo," poor thangs.

    3. Petie Pete, I've been thinking about what you wrote. I understand that it does seem that women and people of color are often the winners in this competition. What I don't understand is why that bothers you. I hope you could consider this from, say, my shoes. No women were included in the list of The Disciples; few women are even named in the gospels; no women have their names attached to any of the books in the NT; women are still not allowed to be ordained in many branches of the church worldwide; and, even broadly, most of the authors, playwrights, artists, composers, politicians, world leaders, historians, and judges, lawyers, and other decision makers have been men. For MILLENNIA. Not because they had nothing to contribute, but because a majority of men have not allowed or facilitated our contributing to anything except child-rearing. (I got no beef with child-rearing! I was a stay-at-home mom myself.) I can't begin to speak to the experiences of women of color, so I won't try. Given all these things, is it really too much to ask that we celebrate women's contributions to the faith in our small competition here? So what if women and people of color predominate here? We never have prevailed before in any public sphere at any time. I say all this not as an attack on you; just continuing the conversation in which I hope you will also continue.