HILO » A Hawaii island sculptor is creating a life-size statue of St. Damien for the Sacred Heart Church in Pahoa in the district where the venerated priest first worked after being ordained in 1864.
William McKnight is chiseling a 7-ton basalt boulder into a statue depicting a 5-foot-10-inch Damien topped by his signature hat. The sculpture will show Damien extending his hand to help people.
The base will feature Hawaii island’s main volcanoes, which also are meant to represent the trinity, along with water symbolizing Damien’s crossing to Molokai, McKnight told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.
Damien was just 24 when he arrived in Puna, his first parish. Church records show he baptized nearly 100 people and performed seven marriages in the few months before he moved north to minister to people in Kohala and Hamakua.
The priest is best known and honored for work he did after moving to the isolated peninsula of Kalaupapa on Molokai, where he cared for exiled leprosy patients in the mid-1800s when no one else would.
He contracted the disease 12 years after he arrived, and died of it four years later in 1889.
The Vatican canonized Belgian-born Joseph de Veuster, or Father Damien, in 2009.
A 58-year-old Catholic, McKnight learned of the church’s desire to honor Damien from a pair of filmmakers who made a documentary about him and plan to do one on Damien.
The church is collecting donations to pay him for his work.
"He’s doing it as a calling," said Bernice Walker, who performs secretarial work for Sacred Heart Church.
McKnight studied sculpting in France and has been hammering stone figures since 1975.
The statue will be displayed on the right side of the church, which is across from Pahoa High School.
A dedication ceremony will be held in March to coincide with the arrival of Bishop Larry Silva, who heads the Diocese of Honolulu.
McKnight searched for the right stone for eight months before finding the perfect one in a Waimea quarry.
"It’s just an honor to do this," he said.