Emma of Hawai’i vs. José Gregorio Hernández

In the penultimate matchup of the Saintly Sixteen, it's Emma of Hawaii vs. José Gregorio Hernández. The winner advances to the Elate Eight to take on James Holly.

Yesterday, in another hotly contested battle, Juliana of Liege took down Ceceilia, narrowly defeating her by less than a percentage point. What is it with these absurdly close battles of Lent Madness 2022?!

Emma of Hawai’i

The arrival of Anglicanism to the Hawaiian Islands is wrapped in politics, family, grief, and faith.  Queen Emma was a devout mother and wife, friend of Queen Victoria of England, cultural representative of the people of Hawai’i (but also mixed race as her father was English), and Christian.  The influence of the English monarchy in England developed from the shared grief between the queens (Victoria with the loss of Prince Albert, and Emma with the loss of her son Prince Albert—named for the aforementioned prince), the desire to stop American colonization, and the conviction that the Christian faith should be brought to the people of Hawai’i.

Upon her husband’s death, Emma declared her candidacy to rule her people in an effort to stave off American colonization by saying:

"Therefore, in view of the foregoing considerations and my duty to the people and to the memory of the late King, I do hereby announce and declare that I am a Candidate for the Throne of these Hawaiian Islands, and I request my beloved people throughout the group, to assemble peacefully and orderly in their districts, and to give formal expression to their views on this important subject, and to instruct their Representatives in the coming session of the Legislature. "God Protect Hawaii!"

Despite the overwhelming support of her people, Queen Emma was not allowed to reign. King David Kalakaua was named king with the support of American businessmen.  Although Emma was unable to lead as a monarch, she led as one of the people by raising funds to address the smallpox infection, build hospitals and places of learning, and establish a legacy to ensure the people of Hawai’i were cared for regardless of who was in power.  Her estate was left in trust to the Hawaiian people on her death.

Emma is still known in the islands as “Our beloved Queen.”  And curiously, Emma and her husband are one of three couples the Episcopal Church recognizes as saints (the other being  Bertha and Ethelred of Kent, and the Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.)

The Priory of St. Andrew’s wrote this collect about the works of Queen Emma (and her king):

“O Sovereign God, who raisedst up (King) Kamehameha (IV) and (Queen) Emma to be rulers in Hawaii, and didst inspire and enable them to be diligent in good works for the welfare of their people and the good of thy Church: Receive our thanks for their witness to the Gospel; and grant that we, with them, may attain to the crown of glory that fadeth not away; through Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Anna Courie

José Gregorio Hernández

Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez died on June 29th, 1919, run over by one of the first cars to ever drive the streets of Caracas. There was instant commotion–official statements of grief from the government were insufficient, city services ceased in a so-called “pious strike”, shops voluntarily closed their doors. Upwards of thirty thousand people filled the streets for his funeral procession. Authorities had constructed a float to bear his coffin through the streets but the crowd surged forward, in grief the multitude seemed to cry as one, “Dr. Hernández is ours!” The float abandoned, the coffin of el médico del pobre, “the doctor of the poor'' was carried to the church, shouldered by the same common people to whom he dedicated his life.

Jose’s gifts had taken him from his rural hometown to medical school in Paris, and back again. Feeling a duty to teach, he became a popular professor and an important medical researcher. His innovations ran the gamut, from isolating the “bacillus pestis” in a 1909 plague outbreak to introducing the thermometer. In his book Elements of Philosophy, he attempted to reconcile science and religion, reflecting on topics like God’s role in evolution and the inadequacy of medical diagnosis like hysteria to explain the ecstasy of saints like Teresa of Avila.

His true passion was patient care, and he refused more prestigious posts in order to spend his time in barrios and remote villages. He kept a bag of money outside his office for patients, they could use it to pay for their visit or privately take money for their needs. "Most of these people do not have resources; I am not going to deny them the consultation and I am not going to make them go through the pain of telling me that they have no money. God will help", he explained.

Posthumously, miraculous healings were attributed to Dr. Hernández and his tomb became a pilgrimage site. One unique practice is be treated by Dr. Hernández in your sleep. Patients make their environment as hospital-like as possible, putting a white sheet on the bed and laying out whatever medical supplies they can access, things like gauze or isopropyl alcohol. The “operating room” prepared, they pray before going to sleep and awaking healed. The Doctor always leaves some sign of his work behind—pieces of discarded surgical equipment, medical prescriptions, and even scars. These sacred beliefs have built up slowly around the miracles that began as soon as el santo médico died, observed by Christians, Spiritists, and those that fall somewhere in between. Altars to Dr. Hernández are also found in Venezuelan hospitals, where patients can leave notes of gratitude.

Dr. Hernández’s legacy can feel contradictory, he is both a scientific icon and a faith healer, responsible for thousands of miracles in life and death—but what is biomedicine, if not a miracle?  The Doctor has been beatified by the Catholic Church, and embraced by indigenous syncretic traditions like Santeria and the cult of Maria Lionza. In this, he is the perfect saint, a mirror and a canvas–a real, historical life and a mystical, symbolic figure, in whom meaning can be both made and found. The malleability of his holiness also asks those of us in North America to open our hearts and minds to South America–the diversity of religious experience, the complex legacy of colonialism, and the power of the love of Jesus Christ to break into the world in unexpected, even unrecognizable ways.

For Jose Gregorio Hernández, perhaps there are not many quirks and quotes as such—as much as the essential quirkiness of sainthood itself.

Eva Suarez


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70 comments on “Emma of Hawai’i vs. José Gregorio Hernández”

  1. Two wonderful, practical people of deep faith who transformed their societies. I expect Emme, with local support to go through, but I cast my vote for Jose, who provides a bridge between worlds, and as a doctor of the poor. Leaving a bag of money outside his office strikes me as quite quirky! And I love the stained glass window of him at work.

  2. Difficult choice again today.

    Being British, I feel I must point out that as Victoria was a ruling Queen, her husband Albert was not King, he was Prince Consort.

  3. I love José Gregorio Hernández's story, as well as his status as a figure who mixed science with faith. Clearly, someone of great learning and great piety who was called to heal all in need. Reminds me very much of The Great Healer. He has my vote today.

    Footnote: PLEASE CORRECT this reference to "King Albert": "Victoria with the loss of King Albert..." Victoria's husband was PRINCE Albert. He was never crowned king, and this was reportedly a conflict within the royal marriage. For political reasons -- Albert being a native of Saxony, not of Britain, for one thing -- Parliament did not want him to rule as king.

  4. José again moved me to vote for him because of his deep commitment to caring for the people regardless of their ability to pay. Truly a doctor who lived out his faith in service.

  5. I’m pretty sure Queen Victoria’s husband was not a king; he was Prince Consort.

    1. Once again, the link did not work for me. I wonder if anyone else had the same problem.

      1. Mine wouldn't work either but I happened to touch the red letters above it and the website opened.

      2. Same - it looked normal, but the red box did not link up - had to go to the underlined “lent madness” above

        1. Had the same trouble when attempting to vote but that did it. Thanks, kay, for the tip.

          Voted for Dr. Hernandez (today and previously) but would be happy if either won this round.

  6. I especially liked "I am not going to make them go through the pain of telling me that they have no money."
    Well said, José.

  7. I again am moved by the sheer brilliance, dedication, generosity and humility of José, and must again vote for him. I may urge my husband to try the operating room at night..

  8. Gloria al bravo pueblo, que lleva pa'lante y para adentro la memoria y espíritu del santo medico para siempre. Glory to the brave people who carry in front of them and in them the memory and spirit of the Santo Medico.

    Eva, thank you so for what you wrote. May we always remember that faith and love are in all things, transcend all, heal all, embrace all, and know no denominational boundaries.

    Jose Gregorio forever.

  9. Does anyone know where John Cabot is? He is always the first comment each morning. I miss his wisdom.

  10. This was a tough decision because I might characteristically lean to the female, but Dr. Jose was so charitable an seemingly unselfish that I think he deserves my nod.

  11. This was a very tough choice but it was the quote from Dr. Hernandez that made my decision "...I am not going to make them go through the pain of telling me that they have no money." It's so easy to inadvertently overlook the human dignity of those we want to help but Dr. Hernandez quietly yet firmly insisted on it.

  12. This was the most difficult choice so far. The good doctor was a saint.

    But his path seems to have been straight, while Emma's path was a selfless recovery from rejection, and I admire such selfless recoveries greatly. What do you do when your "plan A" does not meet with approval or success? Emma's choice at that point is what gets my vote.

  13. I was all set to vote for Emma but Eva's write up on Jose' changed my mind, especially about the miracle of biomedicine.

  14. I visited Hawaii many years ago and I remember seeing Harnades name outside a building. The Hawaiian people revered him. He has my vote for caring for the sick.

  15. Ah, Dr. Jose is my man. I had never heard of him before Lent Madness this year, and now he in miniature occupies a prominent place on my desk: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10159521963840102&set=a.10150398403300102
    Queen Emma certainly seems admirable, and I can see why her people still remember and love her, but I must vote for Dr. Jose's humility and his desire to actively help the forgotten and impoverished people of Venezuela. He reminds me of the wonderful missioners I work with.

  16. Another tough one: I am editing a paper on anti-imperialism and have just read the biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, so they both resonate. I will need to ponder and vote later.

  17. Traveling through the South, I just saw a billboard with a big X across the iconic ape-Neanderthal-Homo sapiens evolution image and a defiant message, "In the beginning, God CREATED." One more time, I'm saddened by the fundamentalist rejection of science, which has now cost so many people their lives. Who do you think CREATED science: the ability to question and reason and use your God-given brain to work out God's secrets to help humanity?? Emma was noble and constant, but Jose combines the best of humanity and God's blessing of science.

  18. Eva Suarez wrote a masterful piece this morning. I probably would have voted for Jose anyway, but she clinched it. My only regret is having no idea how to choose between him and James Holly. I enjoy the kitsch round, but I don't usually base my vote on those write-ups!

  19. I hate to see these two pitted against each other. They are such contemporary examples of saintly life.

  20. I was puzzled by the opening paragraph that said the winner of today's battle will move to the Elate 8 to take on Teresa of Avila. That would make a great leap across brackets. Today's winner should take on James Holly.

  21. Emma did so much for Hawaii AND the Christian faith. She brought Anglican ism to Hawaii. She built a hospital, which still operates today. Education was a huge priority especially for females. How could I vote any other way,

  22. I expect Emma to surge, once the west coast has woken up. So to balance this, I voted for the good doctor, Jose.

  23. Somehow I missed these people the first time around. Voted for Dr.Jose, what an amazing and giving man. He even let people pay him with his own money....not likely to find that happening anymore. We need more doctors like this man.

  24. NYT mini crossword clue this morning:

    Aloha! I am hoping and praying this is a good omen and as votes come in from the west Emma will prevail. I voted for Dr. Jose in the first round, and if it were not for my Hawaiian origins, this would likely be a more difficult choice for me. Both Emma and Jose were selfless in their care for the poor and less privileged.

    It's funny -- I've always been fairly immune to the fascination with the British royal family shared by many Episcopalians, including a lot of my clergy colleagues. But my love for the Hawaiian kingdom, passed down from my great-grandparents, is strong.

    Imua (go!) Hawaii! Imua Emma!

  25. I voted for Jose in the first round, and not Emma,so I thought I would have an easy choice. But I have to vote for Emma this time for her saintly struggle for her people and against the racist imperialism that took over her country.

  26. I was raised by a very faithful man/doctor who continued to make "House Calls" well into his eighties and never charged a dime for them. Couldn't cast my vote for anyone other than Jose.