Three causes for canonization have been presented to the U.S. bishops in their fall 2021 meeting, including the cause for Servant of God Joseph Dutton, a cause initiated by the Diocese of Honolulu and Bishop Larry Silva. When a written request to initiate a (local) cause is received by the bishop, for it to advance he must consult the opinion of the regional conference of bishops, then the national conference and lastly, the Holy See. A voice vote today at the USCCB meeting in Baltimore gave the go-ahead for this cause to proceed. Bishop Silva has now completed the first two of those duties.

Because of the research I have done on Servant of God Joseph Dutton, Michael Heinlein of Our Sunday Visitor asked me to write a story. That appeared today when Michael tweeted: Great piece from my friend @joansrome on the third canonization cause #USCCB21 is consulted on today. Get to know Joseph Dutton!

Take a few minutes to read the story so that you understand the photos I post.


The incredible life of Joseph Dutton, a servant to the saints and souls of Hawaii – Our Sunday Visitor (

I took the following photos on several of my trips to Kalaupapa to visit the sites where Sts. Damien and Marianne Cope and Servant of God Joseph Dutton lived and worked among the victims of leprosy.

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In some photos, you will see the area of Kalawao where ships in the 19th century dropped off those ill with leprosy, leaving them at the shore near the big rock you see. I’ve read a few reports where some exiles had to swim a bit or walk in shallow water to shore when they disembarked.

The terrain you see in other photos is that of Kalaupapa in general and Kalawao specifically as that is where Fr. Damian built the church of St. Philomena, where separate homes were built for men and women and teenaged girls and boys. I also took photos of some of the historic descriptions of and facts about the area and Brother Dutton.

I have other photos of some of the burial grounds around Kalaupapa, including the area adjacent to St. Philomena church where Fr. Damien is buried (only a small relic is here with his remains having been transported (against his final wishes!) in 1936 to his native Belgium in St. Anthony’s Chapel in Leuven.

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When I returned to Hawaii in 2012 and subsequent years, I began to seriously study Joseph Dutton’s intriguing story and amazing life and, in 2015, when Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu approved the statutes of the Joseph Dutton Guild, whose mission is to spread knowledge of and devotion to Joseph Dutton, as well as address the financial and logistical needs for his cause for sainthood. I was invited to be a member. I try to attend at least one meeting in person every year and have attended others via Zoom.

On the personal side: I believe that what Dutton experienced in his post-war years was equivalent to what today is called PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. I would love to see him become a patron saint of people in the military, especially veterans!

Those of us who know the Kalaupapa stories of Sts. Damien and Marianne and Servant of God Joseph Dutton, who have spent time on this historic peninsula, who have studied the history of leprosy, who know some of the current residents of Kalaupapa, who have walked among the many tombs of the exiles who were forced to live there, have a big concern: What will happen when the last patient living there dies?

For decades, employees of the Hawaii Department of Health and the Department of Forests and Parks have lived and worked on Kalaupapa. What will happen to them? Would they still be needed?

What will happen to Kalaupapa? Many of us entertain the thought, the hope that one day this historic piece of land could become a shrine, a sanctuary, especially for members of the military, in particular for veterans. A place of God-given pristine natural beauty, of quiet and peace that would be conducive to introspection, to reflection, to healing of mind, body and soul.

FYI: Since posting this, I learned from a member of the Dutton Guild that the the National Park Service has a sort of master plan for Kalaupapa National Historical Park that is called the General Management Plan. It’s apparently quite long so when I read it and have a better idea of things, I’ll pass that on to you.



Sunday, October 8: When you experience bitterness, put your faith in all those who still work for good: in their humility lies the seed of a new world.

Monday, October 9: The search for peace is an open-ended task, a responsibility that never ends and that demands the commitment of everyone.

Put this on your calendar: At 5 pm Rome time on Thursday, October 26, from a small room in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis will have a linkup with the crew of the International Space Station.


On Sunday I leave for Hawaii to participate in the October 20-22 Saints Damien and Marianne Catholic Conference at the Honolulu Convention Center. I am very excited about the conference because, starting in 2008, I have spent years researching the lives and works of Saints Damien and Marianne Cope, and then covering their canonizations in Rome (respectively 2009 and 2012), and now I can share my stories and listen to the stories of others who also love Hawaii’s two very special saints.

And Hawaii may well have a third saint – Brother Joseph Dutton. He was not a religious brother but rather received that name from Fr. Damien himself who told Joseph one day as they worked together on Kalaupapa, “You are like a brother to everyone here.”

Born Ira Dutton, he took the name Joseph when he became a Catholic. Joseph worked for 44 years alongside Fr. Damien and Sr. Marianne and her nuns, with the leprosy patients on Kalaupapa, this hankerchief-sized piece of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Hansen’s disease is the medical name for leprosy. When it came to the Hawaiian Islands, then a kingdom, King Kamehameha V banished all those with the disease to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula on the north shore of the island of Molokai. The leprosy colonies operated from 1866 to 1969 and had a total of over 8,500 residents over the decades.

At the time of Fr. Damien, a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, people sick with leprosy were exiled to Kalaupapa. It was that exile of so many human beings who needed the hand not only of a doctor but of another human being to comfort them in their dreadful living conditions, both physical and spiritual, that prompted Fr. Damien to go to Kalaupapa in 1873. He served there until his death in 1889.

Damien was joined by Mother Marianne Cope and six sisters from her Order, the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, in 1883. She lived and worked there until her death in 1918.

We see the words “heroic virtues” literally come to life in Damien and Marianne.

More than 8,000 people, mostly Hawaiians, have died at Kalaupapa. Many of their tombs can still be seen today, although many thousands were washed away years ago as the result of a tsunami. Kalaupapa is now home to just a few remaining residents who are now cured, but were forced to live their lives in isolation.

The conference will, as its title says, focus on Hawaii’s two saints, on their heroic virtues but also on human rights because that is really what Damien and Marianne fought for over so many decades – the rights of people who had been ostracized by society and forced to live in totally undignified circumstances.

When we think of sainthood and heroic virtues, we think: this is Mission Impossible – not something I can achieve. And yet, this is what we are all called to do! And this is what the conference hopes to achieve: to inspire all of us to – in our way, with whatever gifts God gave us, in whatever circumstances He placed us – aim high, to look at sanctity as something eminently achievable.

Did Marianne and Damien think like Mother Teresa: “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much!”

A number of the speakers, as you’ll see from the program, are from the same congregation as St. Damien and the order of St. Marianne.

The special guest of honor is Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga. We have been in touch and I’ll be interviewing him!

I’ll also join Bishop Larry Silva on a pilgrimage to Kalaupapa on October 23. I’ve been there several times before, and have written stories and posted videos and interviewed many people.

I am truly looking forward to returning to a place that, for me, is a shrine.