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. I don't know whether or not it was in the telling of the life or in the actual living of it that affected my choice, but Jose made a far more profound impression on me than did Emma. Go, Jose!

  2. I found it very hard to choose between these two amazing saints today. It is so wonderful to learn about lives of faith!

  3. Once again, the voting system failed me. When I selected online, I got nothing. When I made the other choice, I wasn’t allowed to vote. This is the third or fourth time I have not been able to get my vote through. I wish to vote for Emma.

  4. Hardest choice yet this year. Both Emma and Jose dedicated their energies to caring for and loving the people who crossed their paths. We, the 21st century church, can learn much from both and would improve our own communities by seeking to emulate them. Would that they could both advance!

  5. So disappointed that I didn't get to vote yesterday due to the computer glitch! I would have voted for Cecelia and that might have made the difference. Here's hoping she get another crack at it next year!!

  6. "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." I found this plea from Eva Suarez to be compelling. So, after being sure I would vote for Queen Emma, I actually cast my ballot in favor of the good doctor. Another difficult choice!

  7. "(Jose) attempted to reconcile science and religion." Not an easy task, but a wonderful viewpoint. Would that more people of today could do the same.

  8. This match is a three-fer! Colonialism, indigenous spirituality, and science. I voted for Jose Hernandez, as this writing is very persuasive: "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." Those of us today need to be helping our churches face science constructively. Issues like evolution, human sexuality, gender identity, transgenderism, and medical research are all vitally important issues requiring faithful witness. Our faith needs to be informed by science. Jose Hernandez combined faith and science, and a love for the people. So-called "Christian nationalism" is one of the greatest threats to democracy today. Any "christianist" pseudo-theology that embraces white supremacy, racism, and anti-immigrant attitudes is no true evangelism. Either of these people is worthy to win today. Hawai'i has been absorbed into the U.S. as a state; whether that's good or bad I don't know. I do appreciate the memory of the signs at the Honolulu airport that greeted the former guy: "Welcome to Kenya." Hula and humor! But South America is still striving to overcome a long history of U.S. intervention and hegemony. Today as we pray for freedom in eastern Europe, let us also remember freedom for those in our own hemisphere including ourselves. Christianity should support genuine democracy and a freedom that is fully realized for all people and not just those clinging to the mechanisms of political and economic power.

  9. A comment on the introduction: this is the antepenultimate matchup of the Saintly Sixteen, rather than the penultimate. It's Juana Ines vs. Origen tomorrow (Friday) and then Oscar vs. Thomas on Monday. And we could have a Thomas vs. Thomas matchup in the Elate 8.
    It's rare that we get to use the word "antepenultimate".

      1. Also, the name of Saint Cecilia is misspelled.

        " Juliana of Liege took down Ceceilia"

        As someone whose very short name has been butchered in so many creative ways, I do not like it when names are misspelled.

  10. I voted both for Emma and Jose’ in their first match ups and both are so worthy. I have wept in a doctors ( dental too ) office because I had not enough money and had bills reduced or fees waived by caring souls. Today, it’s Jose’ and may his memory be a blessing.

  11. As a St. Andrew's Priory alumna, it's Emma as she laid the foundation for Anglican education for girls in Hawaii. The school is going strong 150+ years later. The Sisters of the Transfiguration, based in Glendale, OH, were the administrators of the school until 1970.

  12. I did not receive the email until later. This was one matchup that I wanted to be included in. St. Cecelia is the patron saint of musicians and most certainly would have had my vote had I known that it was her matchup day.

  13. My guess is that Queen Emma started climbing the tree of Christian conviction from the bottom up. She had more hurdles than most people and handles those hurdles well. Her time of life, the 19th century, was a major shift in her history. Much was going on in her world: challenge to old customs and beliefs of Hawaiians, accommodating all she knew to the influx of powerful western nations,alarm over the health of Hawaiians, the relationship of her Christian beliefs to old religious beliefs and practice.

  14. I think the crazy-close vote tallies are a tribute to the Supreme Executive Committee's splendid selection of saints this year! I have been delighted to meet people of whom I had never before heard.

    I deliberately don't look at the brackets so that each day is a surprise. This morning, my instant reaction was, "WHOA, this one is HARD!!!" Another tribute to the mad skills of the SEC! 😀 Both saints are so amazing that I have to turn to personal reasons for my choice. Thinking of my late husband, a molecular biologist, I am voting for the saintly person of science, José Gregorio Hernández.

  15. Shouldn't we be concerned about the creeping equivalency between our One True Faith, and polytheistic practices such as Santeria? Granted, Dr Hernandez exemplified the servant life, but can't we extol that sacrifice without dragging our faith into the spiritual gutter?

    1. Christianity in its expansion has long appropriated and relabeled indigenous deities and customs. Saint Bridget, for instance, was a Celtic deity "repackaged." I don't see how it helps our ecumenical and evangelical mission to call forms of Otherness the "gutter." We have enough trouble trying to explain the trinity as something other than polytheism. Jesus struggled a bit to overcome his prejudice against the Syrophoenician woman; we should do the same.

  16. My Mother-in-Law is a native-born Hawaiian, and U.S. Air Force Veteran long before Hawaii became a state...I'm just having to vote for Emma of Hawai'i...and I'm also Episcopalian, so there's that...

  17. This was a hard one. I had voted for Queen Emma and Dr. Hernandez
    in the first round. They are both outstanding because of the work that still exists today not to mention the work they finished while still alive.

  18. I can give Eva Suarez no better applause than to vote for José on the strength of her write-up. Masterful!

  19. I went with José again even though my second (and last, without a miracle) visit to Hawaii in 2011 left me with a burning desire to live there permanently... My body, mind and spirit felt not only refreshed but so *at home* there during that short (and rather tourist-y) trip...

    Not sure why I went that direction with my comment... hmm... brain fog setting in again?

    But really, what I intended to say was how I really didn't connect with Emma in her first round but I really connected in today's write up. It drew me so much more to her than before! (And I rarely find that's the case for round two...)

    Still, my heart is for the good doctor. After all, if I'm ever to have even the slightest chance to make it to the islands again, it'll likely be at least in part because some caring faith+science doctor helps me even if I cannot pay! <3

  20. Ugh! I can’t vote! Somehow I missed reading about Jose Gregorio Hernandez in the round of 32 and I think he sounds amazing. I kind of want him to win the whole thing and now of course, I can’t vote. I sure wish we had not changed to this voting system that is less compatible with iPads.

  21. I admire Queen Emma of Hawai'i, but I had to vote for the good doctor, José Gregorio Hernández. The bag of money and the associated quote helped tip the balance.

    And as others have said, Queen Victoria's husband was, Prince Albert, just like Queen Elizabeth II's husband was Prince Philip. The current Queen, long may she reign, like her great great grandmother Victoria, is queen in her own right, not because she married a king. In the British monarchy a ruling king's wife is a queen consort (like the Queen's mum was before she became a widow and therefore Queen Mother), but a ruling queen's husband is a prince consort.

    As I write this it is almost 5:30PM in Honolulu. I wonder how evening votes from the islands of Hawai'i will affect the outcome of this match.

  22. A tough choice! I voted for Hernández to compensate for his terrible luck in being found by one of the only cars in existence in Caracas and becoming a founding statistic. He and Emma were both amazing saints.