Father Damien Way Dedicated on East 33rd Street
Friday, July 10, 2015
On Monday, May 11, at 1:30 PM, Geert Bourgeois, Minister-President of Flanders, and Cardinal Dolan inaugurated Father Damien Way at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Father Damien Way extends along 33rd Street between First and Second Avenues. A special ceremony unveiled the official street sign to the public.
Father Damien, whose secular name was Jozef De Veuster, was canonized by the Vatican in 2009. He was born in Belgium in 1840 and left for Hawaii as a missionary in 1864. In Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai, he dedicated his life to those who were ostracized and exiled with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy. For 16 years, Father Damien cared for the lepers, until he contracted the disease and succumbed to it in 1889.
While Father Damien never lived here, New York City was chosen as a place to honor his work for its strong international ties. Father Damien Way is near Bellevue Hospital, which has the only Hansen’s Disease clinic in the mid-Atlantic region. Bellevue Hospital is the oldest public hospital in the United States, and was in the news recently for taking in an Ebola patient, Dr. Craig Spenser, in 2014.
Several Hawaiians came to New York City to witness the dedication of Father Damien Way, including two Hansen’s disease patients from Kalaupapa, Clarence “Boogie” and Ivy Kahilihiwa. “This is a special moment, not only for Hawaii, not only for Flanders, I think for all people interested in human rights,” Bourgeois said at the ceremony. “(Saint Damien) was … an early human rights activist.”