Just as I suspected, yesterday’s match-up was “arriverderci Anna i auguri Benedetto en il rondo prossimo!” Yes, Benedict advances — just as his 16th namesake retires. Cosmic karma consciousness. Or something like that…
But today. Oh my, today! We are back to truly diabolic shenanigans! Solomonic choices! Do we split the baby between a saint who became one with the lepers or one who gave us Social Security? Read on my friends and choose for yourself! (Though I will share my choice with you in an effort to sway you).
Father Damien (January 3, 1840-April 15, 1899 — yes he was only 49 when he died…) was a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He responded to a call to come to Hawaii as a missionary. At that time thousands of Native Hawaiians had become infected by several diseases brought to the islands by foreign traders and sailors, including influenza, syphilis, and leprosy (or Hansen’s disease). At the time leprosy was thought to be incurable so in 1865 the Hawaiian Legislature passed a law quarantining the lepers of Hawaii to a part of the island of Molokai divided from the rest of the island by a steep mountain ridge (even now the only land access to it is by a mule trail
The colony was meant to be self-sustaining, growing their own food, etc., but things deteriorated and it was clear help was needed. Damien prayed about it and then volunteered to go. He arrived in Molokai in 1873 and set about building schools, houses, and a church. He tended to the sick and administered the sacraments. He showed no fear of the people to whom he had been sent; he shared their food, embraced them, and became one with them. Six months after his arrival on Molokai, Damien wrote back to his brother in Belgium, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.” His words turned out to be prescient, as he contracted the disease and died from it 16 years after arriving in Molokai. Damien is considered a “martyr of charity.” He was the tenth person recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church to have lived, worked, and/or died in what is now the United States. His fame spread throughout the world; Mahatma Ghandhi claimed him as one of his inspirations..
Frances Perkins: even though I was a history major once (long, long ago on a planet far, far away…) I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t know who Frances Perkins was until encountering her in Lent Madness. See? This is a really useful instrument for learning new things! Because I am running a little short on time and have to get to my first workshop session this morning at the CEEP conference, I’m going to cheat a bit and give you Wikipedia’s summary of her life:
She was born in 1880, died in 1965. Perkins was US Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945, the first woman appointed to the US Cabinet. As a loyal supporter of her friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, she helped pull the labor movement into the New Deal coalition. She and Interior Secretrary Harold L. Ickes were the only original members of the Roosevelt cabinet to remain in office for his entire presidency.
During her term as Secretary of Labor, Perkins championed many aspect of the New Deal inclucking the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration and its successor the Federal Works Agency, and the labor portion of the National Industrial Recovery Act. With the Social Security Act she established unemployment benefits, pensions for the many uncovered elderly Americans, and welfare for the poorest Americans. She pushed to reduce workplace accidents and helped craft laws against child labor. Through the Fair Labor Standards Act, she established the first minimum wage and overtime laws for American workers, and defined the standard forty-hour work week. She formed governmental policy for working with labor unions and helped to alleviate strikes by way of the United States Conciliation Service. A turning point in Frances Perkins life which led her to become such a fierce advocate for labor and human rights was witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911. Perkins was a Mount Holyoke grad (yay Seven Sisters!) and an Episcopalian (as was, by the way, FDR himself).
Musings: I think this one is going to be close, really, really close. Both Damien and Frances are true giants making a difference in the lives of many and inspiring even more. Damien clearly followed the example of Jesus Christ by becoming one with the people whom he had been sent to serve. He lived incarnational ministry. His works went beyond just the people of Molokai as so many to this day are inspired by his story and example. Frances Perkins lived out her faith by using the vehicle of government to help care for the poor, the elderly, the disenfranchised. So many of what people dismissively call “entitlements” and are trying hard to roll back today come from Frances Perkins’ work and legacy. Many of us who are Christians do believe that the common wealth should be put to work for the common good; it is for that reason that I am voting for Frances Perkins today.
To vote, go here. Do pause and read the LM bios of these two great saints as you scroll down, then go to the bottom of the page to vote.