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Joseph Dutton . . . Deserves To Have His Life Known Accurately

May 11, 2022 Featured Today No Comments

Joseph Dutton . . .
Deserves To Have His Life Known Accurately

By PEGGY MOEN

The sainthood cause of Joseph Dutton keeps marching forward, step by step. Two other Catholic servants of the leprosy patients on the Kalaupapa Peninsula — Fr. Damien DeVeuster (canonized in 2009) and Sr. Marianne Cope (canonized in 2012) — have somewhat overshadowed him. But now Dutton is coming in to his own.
As his fame grows and his sainthood cause moves forward, two errors about his life have been reported consistently. One is the claim that he was a Trappist monk; the other is that he died of leprosy.
As to the first claim, it is best to review his young life, before he undertook his long journey to Catholicism.
A Union veteran of the Civil War, Joseph Dutton served as a lieutenant in the Thirteenth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, Company B. Born in Stowe, Vt., and named Ira, Dutton was raised Protestant in Janesville, Wis., and taught Sunday School prior to his Civil War service.
After the war, he got involved in a disastrous marriage, and fell into alcoholism and debt as his wife, Eloise, ran off to New York with another man.
Then for some years he lived a double life, working by day and partying by night. He worked for the government, locating the remains of Union veterans and arranging for their reburial in a national cemetery. He described this work as “gruesome.” At night, he engaged in “drunkenness and debauchery,” later estimating that he drank a barrel of whiskey a year.
He worked in Memphis as a railroad clerk, according to 1970 U.S. Census records, and he also became acquainted with the Semmes family, devout Catholics and relatives of Admiral Raphael Semmes of the Confederate Navy.
In 1876 Dutton took a pledge to drink no more and in 1881 he obtained a divorce from Eloise.
Dutton studied the catechism and decided that the Catholic Church offered him the best means for doing penance for his “lost years.” He entered the Catholic Church with Jorantha (Mrs. Benedict) Semmes as his godmother. He was baptized at St. Peter’s in Memphis on his fortieth birthday, April 27, 1883. He chose the baptismal name of Joseph, which some apparently have mistaken for a religious name, contributing to the confusion over his state of life.
Soon, in 1884, he decided to study at the Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky, with a view to becoming a Trappist monk. Then, he realized he was called to an active apostolate instead. But he carried that discipline of prayer with him, eventually all the way to the Kalaupapa Peninsula on Molokai.
Dutton never took vows and left the monastery on good terms. He was not a monk, although one reads countless articles describing him as one. Later, in 1892, with the recommendation of St. Marianne, he was received into the Secular Franciscan Order, but he always remained in the laity.
He found his specific calling when he read Charles Warren Stoddard’s book Lepers of Molokai at the Redemptorist House in New Orleans. This is what inspired him to go to Kalaupapa and help Fr. Damien in his mission to the leprosy victims there. Stoddard assured Dutton that he could be useful at the settlement.
It was Damien himself who called him “Brother,” affectionately, upon his arrival at Molokai in July 1886, but Dutton remained a layperson all his life. The nickname, however, stuck, contributing to the misconception that he was a religious.
Dutton received letters that addressed him as “Brother” or “Father.” Given his calm disposition, he didn’t seem to be upset by the continuous errors over his state of life, but simply set the record straight when he replied to his correspondents.
I’ve come across two recent articles that asserted that Dutton died of leprosy. Dutton died in a Honolulu hospital in 1931 shortly before his eighty-eighth birthday, and, unlike Fr. Damien, never contracted the disease, even though he taught and cared for the patients on Kalaupapa and bandaged their sores. He had no fear.
During his service on Molokai, he was sometimes reported in U.S. newspapers as being dead. A headline in the Baraboo Weekly News, February 6, 1913 stated: “Dutton May Not Be Dead.” And, of course, he was not dead — there had been some confusion with the name of another missionary, serving elsewhere.
Dutton was buried on Molokai — after he died in the Honolulu hospital, his remains were returned to the settlement.
It’s good to be clear about the details of Joseph Dutton’s life in the interests of accuracy. As the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, “God is in the details.” Also, if this is the age of the laity, you couldn’t ask for a more outstanding example of lay sanctity and service, and the details illustrate this.
In this contentious age, his eternal calm and endless good cheer are worth imitating. He signed his innumerable letters (including several to U.S. presidents) as “Joyfully yours, Joseph Dutton.”

Details Of Dutton’s
Sainthood Cause

Bishop Larry Silva of the Diocese of Honolulu published the following announcement in the Hawaii Catholic Herald, March 30, 2022:
“I am happy to announce that, with the completion of preliminary steps, we are now going to proceed with the First Session of the Diocesan Inquiry for the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Servant of God, Joseph Dutton, Layman.
“On Tuesday, May 10, 2022, I will celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 6:00 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, 1184 Bishop Street, Honolulu, Hawaii. It is the Memorial of St. Damien DeVeuster. At the end of the Mass, there will be a short ceremony to formally open the Diocesan Inquiry Phase of the cause of Servant of God Joseph Dutton. The members of the Joseph Dutton Guild will be present, and the officials who will play various roles in the investigation of the cause will take their oaths of office.
“It should be noted that beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church is a rigorous process, and there is no guarantee that the process will finally result in Joseph Dutton’s beatification or canonization. Nevertheless, many of the faithful in the Diocese of Honolulu and in other parts of the world have spoken favorably and are hopeful that Joseph Dutton’s holiness of life will be deemed by the Church to be worthy of public veneration and imitation. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will guide this process to its completion according to the will of God and for the good of his holy Church.”

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