The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently voted to advance the cause of beatification and canonization for Brother Joseph Dutton, who converted to Catholicism on his 40th birthday in 1883 and worked in the Hansen’s disease colony at Kalaupapa for 35 years as penance for what he called his “degenerate decade” of hard-drinking, according to a conference news release.
The action was taken last month during the conference’s meeting in Baltimore. Now that the bishops have found Dutton worthy, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints will document his life and investigate any miracles attributed to him.
The Catholic Diocese of Honolulu was not immediately available for comment.
Honolulu Bishop Clarence R. Silva joined Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, in facilitating the discussion on Dutton’s cause by the bishops, the release said. The bishops affirmed their support by a voice vote.
Ira Barnes Dutton, known as Joseph Dutton or Brother Dutton, was born April 27, 1843, in Stowe, Vt. His father, Ezra Dutton, was a farmer who also worked as a cobbler and his mother, Abigail Barnes, was a schoolteacher, the release said. The family moved to Janesville, Wis., in 1847.
Dutton married in 1866, “but when his wife left him a year later, it began a period in his life that Dutton later referred to as the ‘degenerate decade’ where he engaged in heavy drinking,” the releases said. In 1876, he became “strictly an abstainer.”
Determined to do penance and make atonement for his “wild years,” and after studying the Catholic faith, Dutton “decided that being Catholic would best enable him to lead a penitential life,” the release said. He was received into the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s in Memphis, Tenn., on April 27, 1883, his 40th birthday, and took Joseph as his name.
In 1884, he entered the Trappist Monastery at Gethsemane in Kentucky, where he stayed for 20 months, devoting himself to a life of hard work and silence. He then realize the the best way for him to do penance “was not through a life of contemplation but through a life of action,” the release said, and he left the monastery with the blessing of the abbot.
Dutton first learned about Father Damien DeVeuster, now Saint Damien, and the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement on Molokai when he read the account “The Lepers of Molokai” by Charles Warren Stoddard. With Stoddard’s encouragement, he traveled to Hawaii, and with the approval of the Honolulu bishop and the Board of Health, he went to Kalaupapa, the release said.
At the time, Father Damien had just been diagnosed with leprosy and needed an assistant to carry on his work after his death. “Dutton threw himself into the work and soon became an expert in caring for the patients’ medical needs,” the release said.
Father Damien, who died in 1889, had established homes for the “orphan” boy and girl patients near his church and house. In 1888, Mother Marianne Cope, now Saint Marianne, and the Franciscan Sisters had arrived to care for the girls in a new home in Kalaupapa. In 1892, at the request of Mother Marianne, Dutton was received as a Secular Third Order Franciscan and in 1895, he took charge of the Baldwin Home for Boys with a capacity of 120 beds for boys and young men. He labored there for the next 35 years.
Dutton died at St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu on March 26, 1931.
The Conference of Bishops also voted to advance the cause of beatification and canonization of Charlene Richard of Richard, La., and August “Nonco” Pelafigue of Arnaudville, La.
Richard, often called “The Little Cajun Saint,” was 12 when she died of leukemia in 1959. Pelafigue died in 1977 at age 89.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.