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. Both amazing lives in which God’s hand is clearly visible in these great servants of the greater good .
    Voted for Pandita as I see hers the even more powerful contributions to Christianity and women’s issues on going.

  2. I love how Fr Damian said he saw Christ in each of the lepers- so difficult for us to see beyond the ugliness of disease- yet he could see beyond that which means he saw with his heart. He gets my vote

  3. Difficult choice today. My grandfather's Aunt, Dr Margaret O'Hara, was a medical missionary in India and one of the first women to earn a medical degree from Queens College. There is a clinic names after her in a leper colony over there. So... women doctors in India and also lepers. Was a difficult choice but I went with Pandita.

  4. As most folks have said, this was a really difficult match-up, as evidenced by the 51% to 49% status as of 8:22 a.m. PDT. I voted for Damien this time, partly because I admire his work and selfless dedication, but partly because he was a "contestant" several years ago and didn't make it.
    I look forward to voting for Pandita in the next couple of years.

    1. Well said. I’ll never forget that St. Joseph, adopted father of Christ, was eliminated in round two a few years ago. Glad the SEC provides second chances. So many holy people, so little time!

  5. Both saints did great work in the world, but for starting with far fewer resources and yet achieving a broader and more lasting scope of benefits, in a time when every disadvantage was stacked against her, and working within her own culture to boot, I have to vote Ramabai. My goodness, but She Persisted!

  6. So impressed by the works of Pandita but I must be loyal to Fr. Damien. While living in Hawai’i some years ago, I was fortunate enough to go to Molokai and travel by mule down 26 switchback turns of sheer cliff to the remote town of Kalaupapa. I will never forget learning about Fr. Damien’s tiredless ministry to the lepers! So respected by the Hawaiian people, his statue stands to this day in front of the capitol building in Honolulu!

  7. Whoa. Very tough call here. I went with St. Damien only because the sheer horror of leprosy challenges my faith in God's mercy. Then I recover it in his ministry.

  8. In 1969 Vimla moved two apartments down from me. Her husband was a surgeon. They had two very young sons. Theirs was an arranged marriage and Vimla was educated to be a doctor's wife. They both believed their parents would only choose the best mate for them. They included me in all their celebrations, introduced me to Indian food and their daily life. She baked naan on the sidewalk. Her ceremonies were incredibly beautiful. I was accused of Americanizing her. She learned how to drive and wore pants! For what Pandita Ramabai accomplished for women, against odds we can barely grasp, affect women today in India and even in America. I know much is yet to be--in India, in America, in the world. It is women like Pandita Ramabai who survived all odds, all setbacks who finally was brought to her knees and carried on with God's help. I wonder if each of us has done all we could for humankind.

  9. Thank you for including Damien. My great, great aunt was Sister Leopoldina Burns. She originally was with the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, NY and traveled to Hawaii to work with the lepers. She became the biographer of Saint Marianne Cope and was the last of the Catholic sisters to serve along side Father Damien.

  10. Oh, gosh, this was a hard one. I'll be happy if either of these hoes to the next round. Finally voted for St. Damien because he gave everything, including his life, to help some of the most disadvantaged people of his time. But I'm very drawn to both!

  11. Praise for Pandita! Proud to be an oblate of the Sisters of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal order who's convent is in Cincinnati! They have saved my life in many ways!

  12. Just a little housekeeping comment. I believe leprosy is Hansen's Disease, not Hanson's.

  13. Both of these saints deserve a vote; but, alas, we had to choose one. I went with Pandita, because she had so many obstacles to overcome. Damien is close to my heart, because as a child, I filled a little piggy bank, the contents of which went to some leprosy mission. He literally put his life on the line.

  14. The most challenging match to date. The horrific circumstances on the island of Molokai to which Father Damien exposed himself is truly a Christ-like commitment of self-sacrifice in the service of others.
    However, I believe women continue to be the second-class citizens of the world and, as such, those who champion the equality of women from social, economic and culture servitude has my vote. My husband's recent return from Saudi Arabia served to more deeply root my conviction in this regard. Have a wonderful day.

  15. This was a hard choice, because I have always had a deep respect for Father Damien, but Dr. (?) Ramabai's multiple missions are near and dear to my radical feminist heart. And I am certain that, as a female medical worker in a deeply misogynist society, she herself likely faced many dangers in the course of her work--from disease to male pattern violence. I am interested to see if she'll make it all the way to the final bracket!

  16. Two very worthy saints. I voted for Ramabai because she is an Anglican saint and apparently Damien was harsh to Protestants.

    1. It seems there was controversy involving deportation of a Protestant minister in the colony, but the Hawaiians played an active role in this decision. Biographer Pennie Moblo writes that to blame this on Damien “preserves a colonially biased history.”

  17. My vote goes to Damien...not only to advance towards the prize, but to take the title for the year! Hands down, he is meant to wear the crown.

  18. After visiting Kalaupapa on my honeymoon, I have to go with Father Damien. Another beautiful witness in his story: initially, he was one of five priests assigned to minister to the leper colony on rotation, so the risk of infection might be lower. However, after his first visit, he refused to leave, saying, “these sheep need a shepherd, and so I will be.”

  19. And I thought that some of our previous choices were difficult! I have read a lot about Damien so that when I saw his name I thought: no contest. Then I read their bios and indecision set in. Normally I don't read the comments before voting, but did so today. Fascinating and informative, but of absolutely no help in deciding. Will probably vote for Damien - unless I change my mind before scrolling up to the vote button!

  20. Toughest one to date, for me! I have always been a fan of Damien and this is my first introduction to Pandita; a brave and faithful servant. My goodness...

  21. Wow; Pandita Ramabai's lead over Damien of Molokai, always slender, has dwindled to 20 votes in the last half hour. Looking at my watch, I have to wonder if residents of Hawaii are starting to weigh in…

    1. In the past whenever this has happened, we have received breaking news about "gnashing of teeth" and "outer darkness," etc, and an ISP address finds itself blocked.

      1. The lead, as I said, has always been slender (less than 75 votes). It was hovering in the 40-50 range after 11 EDT, and gradually drifted lower beginning at 12:15 EDT (6:15 HST).

        I think it's reasonable to expect that at least twenty residents of Hawai'i have an interest in today's match-up.

  22. Very unfair to pit these 2 magnificent saints against one another. I hate the fact that one of these 2- either Pandita or Damien has to be eliminated today. In some of the earlier contests, i would easily have eliminated both of the the contestants. Sigh. This is a very tough choice, as both of these people lived as Jesus did and invited us to do. I'm not surprised to note that, upon my vote at 10 am PDT, they each have 50% of the vote! Maybe one of them (if the other doesn't win the Golden Halo) can be resubmitted next year?

  23. How about a wild card spot do that both of these worthy saints can advance?

    C’mon, Tim and Scott - rules were meant to be bent!!

  24. Some of my favorite unmentioned details about St. Damien:

    His assignment to the leper colony was supposed to be on a rotation with three other priests. Instead of returning and letting one of them take his place (and the risk of contracting leprosy), he volunteered to stay repeatedly.

    While the many building projects he organized are listed, the blogger did not mention that St. Damien did not build a house for himself until every other resident had a place to live, and instead he slept in his hammock under the stars until everyone else was provided for first.

    He organized a choir in the community. Before his ministry, people were basically just waiting to die, but he taught them not only to work and provide for themselves, but to sing. People were literally lying around waiting to die, and afterwards, they were singing praises to God. If that's not a resurrection, I don't know what is.

    St. Damien is often remembered as a patron saint of people living with HIV/AIDS because of the disease's parallels with leprosy.

  25. " Pandita" is an honorific bestowed upon her - not really her name - It signified someone who was an expert in the Hindu scriptures - Rare for a woman. hen she became a Christian, she refused to join any denomination, saying, in effect, "I have just been freed from the authority of men; do not be shocked that I am not eager to submit myself to that again." She was well aware that male authority would doom, or restrict, her vision. Her first schools were for child brides who were married off to older men, who were then cast off when those men died - "widows" restricted to certain places to live, who had to wear white, and were never eligible for remarriage - She changed the lives of those girls - "Mukti" means both freedom and salvation - and it is still a remarkable place - although, as she expected, once it became a denominational entity, governed mostly by men, it has become more conservative, and less innovative. She was a remarkable woman - beginning to end -

  26. I wavered over my vote in this matchup more than any other, and I've done lots of wavering during this season of Lent … Madness. Damien the saint who walked in the footsteps of Christ in his sacrificial mission, or Pandita the healer and translator who defied the conventions of her time to improve social conditions in colonial India and communicate the gospel? I cast my vote for Damien simply to even the score with Pandita, who had a slight edge numerically despite the two being tied proportionally at 50/50. So I'm with Jennifer (1:21 pm): Tim and Scott, be like Pandita in defying convention and like Damien in repudiating authority and allow both these equally worthy Golden Halo candidates to advance!

  27. Both of these Saintly souls did much in their selected communities to the point that it was difficult to pick one over the other. I’m not surprised at all that the voting is so close and considered a tie at this point. They both answered a much needed call!

  28. 12:07 central standard time - 1 vote apart. Can't remember a more exciting race