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Joseph Dutton – His Life * His Service * His Legacy will give readers insight into the personality, faith, and courage of Servant of God Joseph Dutton, a layman who dedicated his life in service to the victims of Hansen's disease (Leprosy) at the settlement at Molokai, Hawaii in the 19th Century.

Ira Barnes Dutton, better known as Joseph Dutton or Brother Dutton, was born in Stowe, Vermont (United States of America) on April 27, 1843.  His father, Ezra Dutton, was a farmer who also worked as a cobbler.  His mother, Abigail Barnes, was a schoolteacher.

The family moved to Janesville, Wisconsin in 1847. Ira was interested in things military and became a member of the Janesville Zouave Corps.  With the
onset of the Civil War, the cadets of the Janesville Zouave Corps were enrolled, as Company B of the volunteer regiment, which later became known as the 13th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.  The Servant of God was soon appointed regimental  quartermaster sergeant, later promoted to Lieutenant and ultimately Captain.


After the war, Dutton remained in service as a quartermaster’s agent on cemeterial construction duty, which involved disinterring bodies from scattered graves and reinterring them in national cemeteries.


The Servant of God was married on January 1, 1866 at Mt. Vernon, Ohio, but the marriage soon failed.

His wife was unfaithful and extravagant.  She left him in 1867.  They were legally divorced in 1881.

Then began a period in his life that he later referred  to as the “degenerate decade.”  

In later years, he never specified much about  his “dissolution” during these times, and he did hold responsible positions in Memphis as a railroad agent and with the War Department as a special agent investigating claims and other business.  However, he did have a problem with drinking.  Although he had been a moderate drinker before, during these times the drinking became severe until July of 1876 when he became “strictly an abstainer.”

Around 1881-1882, the Servant of God determined to do penance and make atonement for his “wild years.” After studying the Catholic faith, he decided that embracing the faith would best enable him to lead a penitential life.  He was received into the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s in the city of Memphis on April 27, 1883, his 40th birthday.  He took Joseph as his baptismal name.  


In 1884, he entered the Trappist Monastery at Gethsemane in the State of Kentucky, where he stayed for 20 months,  devoting himself to a life of hard work and silence.  However, he realized that the best way for him to do penance was not through a life of contemplation but through a life of action. He left the monastery, with the blessing of the Abbot.


The Servant of God first learned about Father Damien De Veuster, now St. Damien of Molokai, and the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement on the island of
Molokai in Hawaii when he read the account “The Lepers of Molokai,” written by Charles Warren Stoddard.  With Stoddard’s encouragement, he traveled to Hawaii, and with the approval of the Bishop and the Board of Health, he went to Kalaupapa.

Father Damien, who had just been diagnosed with leprosy, now, more than ever, he needed an assistant to help him carry on his work after he was gone. 

The Servant of God threw himself into the work. Saint Damien later wrote:

The courage of my Dear brother Joseph Ira B. Dutton appears to respond very well to the special calling for which our Blessed Lord has chosen him.  He takes a special interest in all what concerns the altars and sacristies of
our churches . . . He also acts as our Druggist – and he’s truly a good confrere to me.

Soon Dutton became an expert in caring for the patients’ medical needs. The settlement physician wrote:

For many months after his arrival, his daily routine, from daybreak to dark, was cleansing and dressing the sores, ulcers and other skin troubles; removing carious and necrosed bone – all of the type that leprosy inflicts on mankind. He was methodical and accurate in his work and quick to learn the rudiments of medicine and surgery.

Joseph Dutton Portrait_edited_edited_edited.jpg

Father Damien, who died in 1889 from leprosy, had established homes for the “orphan” boy and girl  patients near his church and house. In 1888, Mother
Marianne Cope, now St. Marianne of Molokai, 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, the Servant of God was received as a Secular Third Order Franciscan.   


In 1895, the Servant of God took charge of the Baldwin Home for Boys with a capacity of 120 beds for boys and young men.  He labored here for the next 35 years.

By 1930, the Servant of God was 87 years old. He had become feeble, nearly
blind and deaf. He was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu, where he
died on March 26, 1931.


By 1930, the Servant of God was 87 years old.  He had become feeble, nearly blind and nearly deaf.   He was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Honolulu, where he died on March 26, 1931.


Although being a penitent, Dutton frequently expressed how happy he was in his life of service at Kalawao.   He commonly signed off his letters with “Joyfully yours.”

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