Friday, July 31, 2015

Br. Joseph Dutton, Friend to Lepers

Br. Joseph Dutton
Will Vermont have a canonized saint someday? Br. Joseph Dutton born Ira Dutton in Stowe, Vermont, worked alongside Fr. Damien deVeuster and Sr. Marianne Cope in Molokai, Hawaii. Both Fr. Damien and Sr. Marianne were canonized saints in 2009 and 2012, respectively. Their work was devoted to caring for lepers quarantined on a remote island by the Hawaiian government.

Dutton was born in Vermont, 1843, but raised in Wisconsin. When the Civil War broke out he entered the Union Army, 13th Wisconsin Division. They saw little fighting but Dutton distinguished himself with his administrative and business skills, achieving the rank of Captain. He married, but his marriage brought him great unhappiness. His wife ran off with another man. He turned to alcohol to assuage his sufferings, living as a broken man for awhile.

Artwork by Andre Girard, Blessed Sacrament Church, Stowe, Vermont
Interest in religion and the encouragement of some friends led him to the Catholic Church. It was then that he changed his name from Ira to Joseph. Ashamed of the way he had been living, he decided to do penance and give his life to the service of others. He joined the Trappist monks in Kentucky and remained with them for two years. It became evident that the contemplative life was not for him. His gifts lay in the active life. He left the Order, remaining good friends with the Superior of the monastery throughout his life.

After some time Dutton heard of Fr. Damien, a Belgium priest who was working with the lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Damien's work inspired Dutton and he was determined to go and assist him. Having received permission from a government official in Honolulu to work with the "Leper Priest," Dutton set sail for Molokai.  Fr. Damien was unaware of Dutton's coming having only learned of it when Dutton stepped on to the island shore. Fr.Damien greeted him, "Br. Dutton." From that moment on he was called Br. Joseph Dutton. He was not a religious brother, but a brother in the truest sense of the word, befriending Fr. Damien in his work of Christ-like service to the lepers of Molokai.
Br. Joseph with Fr. Damien feeding the lepers
The work with the lepers was arduous and at times physically replusive, but Dutton was not one to shrink from the demands of the care required by the lepers' illness or their poverty. Fr. Damien was working tirelessly to restore the lepers' dignity by providing adequate food, clothing and shelter. He offered the sacraments and provided a moral reference to their communities. Fr. Damien fought hard to garner support for the lepers from the Hawaiian government, wealthy individuals, and assistance from the Catholic Church. Dutton was the Holy Spirit's answer; he was the sturdy friend who shouldered the weight of the extreme hardships of life in the leper colony. He was a man of strength, faithfulness and practical talents. His devotion to Fr. Damien extended for the three final years of the priest's life. He washed and cleaned Fr. Damien's sores as the leprosy developed. His presence assured Fr. Damien that the lepers would not be abandoned when he died, but that the work of care for them would continue. Br. Joseph Dutton arrived on Molokai in 1866 never to leave.  He remained until his death in 1931. If you are in Stowe, Vermont, be sure to stop at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and see the tribute to Br. Joseph Dutton in words and in works.

Quote taken from, John Farrow's book, Damien the Leper
and found on the wall at Blessed Sacrament Church, Stowe,
For a more complete reading on the heroic life of Br. Joseph Dutton check out the following:

Damien and Dutton, Two Josephs on Molokai
by Arthur E. Couch

Brother Dutton of Molokai
by Arthur E. Couch

Damien the Leper
by John Farrow

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