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Investigating Father Damien’s Miracle

Father Damien was a Belgian Catholic priest who went to the Hawaiian island of Molokai to minister to the patients of the leper colony in 1873. He served there until he died -of leprosy- in 1889. Father Damien became Saint Damien of Molokai in 2009. To achieved sainthood, there must be at least two miracles attributed to the saint's intercession, among other requirements. Father Damien's first certified miracle was in 1895. The second only came about in 1998 when Audrey Toguchi was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After praying to Father Damien, subsequent x-rays showed the cancer in her lungs shrinking, then disappearing.

Like many Hawaiians both religious and secular, Dr. Chang admired Father Damien deeply and had followed the news of his slow progress towards sainthood. Although Dr. Chang hesitated to believe in miracles, he was convinced that for the Catholic Church, at least, the x-rays and biopsies of Mrs. Toguchi’s cure might be seen as evidence of Damien’s presence in heaven. Those who know Dr. Chang well remark how his convictions can turn into obsessions. “When my father believes he’s correct,” says his son Carter, also a doctor, “he will debate or argue till he is proven right or the other person gives up and turns away.”

Dr. Chang approached Father Christopher Keahi, the Sacred Hearts priest who had first suggested that Audrey Toguchi pray to Damien, and whose hilltop office outside Honolulu is today cluttered with pencil portraits, paintings, and busts of the priest. In a letter that Father Keahi later wrote to a Sacred Hearts representative in Rome, he recalled the talk with Dr. Chang: “he told me when we met that he would challenge any physician to debate him in regards to Audrey’s case,” reported Keahi. “I tried to subdue his enthusiasm by reminding him that Rome treats such cases with meticulous and methodical examination.”

The story of that meticulous and methodical investigation into Toguchi’s miracle is detailed at Atlas Obscura, along with an account of the life of Father Damien.

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