The Path to Sainthood: Brother Joseph Dutton

Brother Joseph Dutton

First there was Saint Damien, then Saint Marianne. Now, another person with Hawaii ties could be in line for sainthood.

Joseph Dutton was a war veteran, writer and volunteer. Born in Vermont, the layman spent close to half a century helping Hansen’s disease patients on Kalaupapa.

“I always knew about him and thought of him as kind of a supporting actor in the drama of Damien, if you will,” said Bishop Larry Silva of the Honolulu Diocese.

Dutton was a veteran of the Civil War. After a failed marriage, depression and alcoholism, at the age of 40, he was inspired to repent and make a pilgrimage. After hearing of Saint Damien in the late 1880s, he made his way to Hawaii to volunteer on Molokai.

“And when Saint Damien passed away, he continued doing his work,” said Dr. Maria Devera, who supports Dutton for sainthood. “He did everything from bandage sores to help construction, and I believe that he wanted it that way. He didn’t want to call attention to himself. It was more of what he could do for others.”

Certain steps are necessary before Dutton, who liked to call himself “the old man of Molokai,” could be a Saint.

“The first step is to foster devotion on a wide scale,” Bishop Silva said. “The second step is to gather information about him. The third step then would be to present all of that to Rome.”

But the road to sainthood is much longer than that. Once its established that Dutton has a devoted following and lived a holy life, two medically and theologically documented miracles have to be attributed to him.

“The church wants to be very careful that it doesn’t canonize anybody,” Bishop Silva said. “That’s not to say that Saints are perfect people.”

Many people from Hawaii to Wisconsin, Nevada and Vermont say they have faith and are working to ensure that Brother Dutton will one day be named a Saint.

“A lot of people don’t seem to know about him,” Devera said. “I do believe that he is (a forgotten person).”

“I am not sure there are too many Bishops that can say they’ve been Bishop while there are two Saints during their tenure,” Bishop Silva said. “To have three would be just incredible.”

Dutton spent the rest of his life volunteering for the patients on Molokai until he died at the age of 88. He didn’t contract Hansen’s disease and never drank a sip of alcohol again.

For information on how you can help chart Dutton’s path to sainthood, email

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