Father Damian celebrates 89th year

Saturday July 21, 2018 Written by Published in Local
Father Freddy Kaina adds his voice to those singing “Happy Birthday” to Father Damian at St Mary’s Church in Arorangi. 18072036 Father Freddy Kaina adds his voice to those singing “Happy Birthday” to Father Damian at St Mary’s Church in Arorangi. 18072036

When veteran Catholic priest Father Damian Marinus, celebrated his 89th birthday last Saturday it gave Cook Islands Bishop Paul Donoghue an opportunity to highlight the achievements of a remarkable life.

Bishop Donoghue said Father Damian’s life could essentially be divided into five phases.

“Phase one, is going back to his roots, knowing that he was born in the Netherlands to Maria-Lauryssen and Joseph-Johanne.

“As a child, Father Damien was known as Petrus Cornelius. His year of birth, 1929 signals to us that his childhood years covered World War Two (1939 – 1945), which brought extra hardships on young families.

“The Marinus family was no exception,” Bishop Donoghue said.

“The family home had to be shared with German officers. Father Damian recalls one of these officers would get the Marinus children ready for church on Sunday. One of Fr Damian’s sisters was killed in front of him when a bomb accidentally fell from a plane flying overhead.

“As soon as the war was over, Petrus became a member of the Congregation of the two Hearts of Jesus and Mary (ss.cc),” Bishop Dongahue said.

“On becoming a member, Petrus changed his name to Damian, inspired by a man who was also a member of the ss.cc family who had been posted to Hawaii and became known to the world when he lived in the leper colony in order to improve the quality of life of the lepers.

“As Damian lived with the lepers he was able full time to minister to them both spiritually and physically. Eventually he contracted leprosy himself and when he began his Sunday sermon, used the words, ‘We lepers...’

“Everyone then knew he had now leprosy himself.

“When our Fr Damian informed his mother he had been posted to the Cook Islands. Damian could see his mother was not happy. The mother asked this question of her son, “Is your posting to the Cook Islands like that of Saint Damian? When he replied, “Yes,” she gave her blessing immediately.

Bishop Donoghue said the second phase of Father Damian’s life was his first appointments in the Cook Islands to Mauke and Atiu.

“His lifelong friend Father John Rovers also arrived in the Cook Islands on the same day, November 11, 1957 and Father John also resided in either Atiu or Mauke. Over time, Father John identifiedwith Mauke and Father Damian with Atiu.

“Father Damian’s work had him teaching in the Catholic School on Atiu. When this closed, he continued as a teacher in the government school.

“Just how strong this bond is to Atiu came home to me a couple of years ago when I took Father Damian to the hospital in Rarotonga to see the eye specialist as he has only 20% vision. As we sat in the corridor I was disturbed by the amount of noise coming from doors being slammed and conversations that seemed too noisy.

“After about 30 minutes of this, a group of very elderly people who had been flown in from Atiu to see the eye doctors came down the corridor. When the mamas saw Fr Damian, the noise was enough to lift the roof. I tried to make myself small, realising that Father Damian was now the cause of all the noise.

“Father Damian is remembered as a strict disciplinarian in the school and this story was told me at a recent wedding I was attending,” said Bishop Donoghue.

“The storyteller had been a scout on Atiu, the group run by Father Damian. After a day of scouting activities, Father Damian asked the troop to cook the evening meal. The boys went off and played sport in the village. When they came back for the evening meal, Father Damian sat them down at the table and in front of them was all the uncooked food. Nothing more was said. The boys got the message. ‘No cook, no food’.”

Bishop Donoghue said the third phase of Father Donoghue’s life involved a year of study at a university in Manila in the Philippines.

“Father Damian thoroughly enjoyed this year. If you have been in his office in Titkaveka, the first impression was that the four walls of the office were all taken up with bookshelves full of books.

“Father Damian’s expertise was acknowledged recently when the Te Koreromotu Ou - Reo Maori Kuki Airani (CIMRNT) version of the New Testament was published. The translation has been done by a committee and Father Damian was a long serving member of that committee.”

In this third phase of Father Damian’s life he was appointed to the staff of the Pacific regional Seminary in Fiji where he served for around six years as the one who taught spirituality to those training for priesthood, said Bishop Donoghue. He taught future priests what to expect in the field as pastors and he fondly remembered that time.

On returning to the Cook Islands Father Damian became parish priest of both Sacred Heart Matavera and St Paul’s Titikaveka.

“For over 20 years he ministered in both parishes with very little assistance from the other clergy on Rarotonga.

“At the same time he was chancellor (finance officer) of the diocese which meant having to travel each day from Titikaveka to Avarua.

“When Father Damian retired, many people commented that the road was safer with the absence of the red motorbike he rode. On very wet days he would take the bus and the kindly drivers would add in a special stop in St Joseph’s road at which only Father Damian was allowed off the bus.”

Bishop Donoghue said the last phase had come suddenly, called Father Damian into retirement.

“With the onset of dementia he did not know what was happening to him and this brought a good deal of frustration. He also had a tendency to wander. Fortunately, because he is well known, his finders knew where to take him home. Now he has a full time carer and is overlooked by Father Freddy Kaina.  Father Damian is much happier and his quality of life improved.

“However, I sense he is frustrated that he can no longer actively minister to the people of the Cook Islands.

“I tell him in response, ‘Fr Damian, you are now the spiritual powerhouse for the diocese as a man of prayer’.”

            - Release

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