In 1873, Father Damien deVeuster, aged 33, arrived at Kalaupapa. A Catholic missionary priest from Belgium, he served the leprosy patients at Kalaupapa until his death. A most dedicated and driven man, Father Damien did more than simply administer the faith: he built homes, churches and coffins; arranged for medical services and funding from Honolulu, and became a parent to his diseased wards.
Shown here in a rare pencil sketch from December, 1888, Damien contracted the disease, and after 16 years of selfless service, died in 1889.
In 1886, Brother Joseph Dutton arrived at Kalaupapa to assist Father Damien. Dutton, an energetic and dedicated missionary priest, assumed many of the duties Damien was unable to perform as his leprosy progressed.
Mother Marianne, another revered servant, devoted 29 years on the peninsula as an administrator, nurse and educator. She spent her life on the go, even as her age climbed well into the seventies. She died in 1918.
In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared Father Damien to be venerable, the first of three steps that lead to sainthood. Pope John Paul II declared Damien blessed in 1995, and in October 2009 he will be canonized as a saint.
With the advent of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, the disease was put in remission and the sufferers are no longer contagious. The very few former patients remaining on the peninsula are free to travel or relocate elsewhere, but most have chosen to remain where they have lived for so long.
While Kalaupapa is now a National Historic Site, it is also the home of the few former patients who choose to remain there. So access, is by law, strictly regulated.
Unless you are invited by one of the residents, you must take the tour offered by Damien Tours of Kalaupapa (about $60.00). The peninsula can be reached by air or by way of the trail descending the 1,600-foot-high (488m) cliffs. Visitors can hike in and out at no cost or ride one of the Molokai mules, which will add about $125 to the cost. Visitors must be at least 16 years old.
The peninsula’s terrain is flat: Translated, Kalaupapa means “level land resembling a flat leaf.”
Strong northeast trade winds and a lack of sufficient rainfall make for harsh living conditions. The nearby cliffs receive more than 25 feet (7.6m) of rain annually, but it disappears through the porous ground. At the near edge is the settlement of Kalaupapa, the only town on the peninsula. At the far edge is the district of Kalawao.