Lieutenant Joseph Dutton of the Union Army crawled out into the night during a Civil War battle and dragged a wounded soldier back to camp. When the light was shone upon the rescuee, a comrade remarked, "The joke's on you, Dutton, this man is a rebel." Dutton did not flinch, but simply responded, "that I knew."
When the War ended, the talented Dutton ventured into a variety of careers, but none would satisfy his restlessness. He converted to Catholicism and after spending some time in prayer at Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky, where Thomas Merton would enter sixty years later, Dutton discovered his calling. At 43, he traveled to San Francisco and from there set sail.
Father Damien de Veuster typically waited from the dock as a ship arrived in port on Molokai Island to deliver its cargo. He was confused one day to see an upright, healthy-looking man in denim amongst the cloaked lepers. It was Joseph Dutton. The former soldier would spend the next forty-five years on the island, tending to the lepers, administrating the colony, repairing the huts and chapel, and being present with the dying. Before his death in 1889, Saint Damien remarked, "I can die now. Brother Joseph will take care of my orphans."
Like his action towards that Confederate soldier twenty-five years earlier, Dutton with the lepers saw through the exterior to the level of the soul. He saw Christ in people, and he served God by serving them.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The world of politics and of the press knows few heroes comparable to Fr. Damien of Molokai. It would be very worthwhile to discover the source inspiring so much heroism."
Damien's source was the same as Dutton's. Catholicism transcends all divides—racial, socio-economic, cultural, political—and inspires people to heroism.