May 10: Feast Day of St. Damien of Molokai
We took a an inter-island trip with Islander’s parents and brother a few years ago when her Daddy turned 70. The family flew on a small plane from Oahu to Molokai to see where Hawaii’s recently canonized St. Damien served those who were afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy).
Damien de Veuster came to Hawaii from Belgium in 1864 and was ordained a priest in Honolulu. A few years later, on May 10, 1873, Father Damien volunteered to minister to the people with leprosy who were exiled to Kalaupapa and Kalawao on the island of Molokai. He himself contracted the disease and, on April 15, 1889, died among those he lovingly served in the name of Christ.
During our family’s private pilgrimage to Kalaupapa and Kalawao, we were able to personally place floral lei at St. Damien’s gravesite on the grounds of St. Philomena Church that he built. We also toured the other solemn and historical areas where Blessed Mother Marianne Cope and Brother Joseph Dutton worked to support St. Damien’s mission to help the patients physically and spiritually.
In honor of St. Damien of Molokai, Hawaii’s patron saint, we made Molokai sweet potato palau. As we do not have Hawaiian ingredients readily available on the mainland, such as purple Molokai sweet potato and Maui onions, we needed to make some substitutions for this side dish.
Serve sweet potato palau—Molokai or mainland style—on the Feast Day of St. Damien. Aloha!
(Adapted from Chef Peter Merriman on Hawaii Magazine)
- 3 large purple Molokai sweet potatoes (we used regular sweet pototoes)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup Maui onion, diced (we used Texas sweet onion)
- ¾ cup butter, divided use, softened
- 1 teaspoon Hawaiian sea salt
Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Dice into 2-inch cubes. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the sweet potatoes.
Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl with ½ cup (1 stick) of butter. The heat from the sweet potatoes should melt the butter. Stir in the the coconut milk and 3 tablespoons of butter. Mash until smooth. Set aside. In a skillet, saute the onions with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the cooked onions to the mashed sweet potatoes. Season with salt. Stir well or whip with a hand mixer until creamy. Serve hot as a side dish.
- Palau is a traditional Hawaiian-style pudding made of sweet potatoes and coconut cream, which inspired the chef to adapt the cooking method for a savory side dish. It has a pudding-like texture similar to whipped sweet potatoes.
- St. Damien was buried on Molokai but his body was exhumed in 1936 and brought back to Belgium, his home country and final resting place. Remains of his right hand were returned to Hawaii and re-interred in his original grave on the grounds of St. Philomena Church in Molokai. His relic (foot bone fragment) travels around the world for veneration.
- St. Damien was canonized on October 11, 2009. In addition to observing his feast day on May 10, Hawaii also celebrates St. Damien’s Day on April 15.
- The background fabric in the final food photo above is from Highlander’s aloha shirt showing motifs of St. Damien.