April 15th is a very important date in my life, because on April 15th, 1963, my classmates and I were ordained to the priesthood. It was a date to which we had looked forward for years; it is a date that I will celebrate as long as I can. I ask you to celebrate with me and thank Our Lord for sharing the ministerial priesthood with me and so many others, and to ask him to give to many men today and in all our tomorrows the grace of a vocation to the priesthood and the willingness to accept that vocation and that responsibility.
But our ordination is not the only thing that occupies my thoughts today. April 15th is also the [150th] anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln, the anniversary of the death of Saint Damian de Veuster, the leper-priest of Molokai, and the anniversary of the tragic sinking of the ocean liner Titanic which caused the deaths of over 1500 people in the sub-freezing waters of the north Atlantic in 1912.
Since today is the anniversary of the death of Saint Damian in 1889, I am reminded that once, in Paris, I visited the motherhouse of the Picpus Fathers where Saint Damian did most of his studies for the priesthood. Before being ordained, though, he was sent from there to one of their missions in what were then called the Sandwich Islands. Today we call them by their own native name: the Hawaiian Islands. On Easter Sunday morning in the year 1953, the USS Boxer, the aircraft carrier in which I was serving, pulled into Pearl Harbor in suburban Honolulu on the main island of Oahu. That afternoon, I went to the downtown area and visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace where Saint Damian had been ordained. Eventually he volunteered to go to the terrible leper colony on the nearby island of Molokai. There he gave to the world a beautiful example of love, service, generosity and courage. He lived there for sixteen years; he contracted leprosy there, and died there. And now the lovely old cathedral in Honolulu and the chapel of the seminary on Picpus Street in Paris have taken on a new importance because of their association with this holy man whose life is such a striking example of the words of Jesus: “greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.