Who is Joseph Dutton?
July 14, 2022
Ira Barnes Dutton was born in Stowe, Vt., on April 27, 1843. His family moved to Janesville, Wis., in 1847.
He attended nearby Milton Academy and Milton College and became a member of the Janesville Zouave Corps. With the onset of the Civil War, he was enrolled in a volunteer regiment, becoming a regimental quartermaster sergeant, then Lieutenant and Captain. The regiment never engaged in any major battles.
After the war, Dutton remained in service on cemeterial construction duty, disinterring bodies from scattered graves and reinterring them in national cemeteries. 
Dutton married in 1866, but his unfaithful wife left him the following year. He began the period of his life that he later called the “degenerate decade” filled with fierce and reckless drinking. In July, 1876, he quit drinking after estimating he had drunk 15 barrels of whiskey over 15 years.
He worked two years for a friend’s business, then went to Memphis and worked for a railroad company and then with the War Department as a special agent investigating claims and other business.
Around 1881-1882, Dutton decided he wanted to do penance and make atonement for his wild years. He became a Catholic in 1883 on his 40th birthday, and he took the name of Joseph.
Dutton first spent 20 months at the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemane, Ky., then felt he should do penance through a life of action and left to explore active religious orders. At a conference with the Redemptorist Order, he heard of Father Damien De Veuster and the Kalaupapa Settlement. Inspired, Dutton went to Honolulu, received approval from both the Catholic bishop there and the government’s president of the Board of Health, and went to Moloka’i, arriving on July 29, 1886.
Diagnosed with leprosy the previous year, the future St. Damien needed help, and Dutton threw himself into the work. He soon became an expert in caring for the patients’ medical needs, working from dawn to dark each day, cleansing and dressing lepers’ sores and ulcers, removing carious and necrosed bone, always methodical and accurate in his work.
Father Damien had established homes for the boys and girls. The future Saint Marianne Cope and Franciscan sisters took care of the girls. After Father Damien’s death in 1889, much of Dutton’s work was taking care of the boys. He labored in a new home for boys for some 35 years, supervising the small staff of Sacred Heart congregation brothers, giving medical care as before. He later became a prolific correspondent with an address book of more than 4,000 names including U.S. presidents and famous writers like Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson.
For years, Dutton left the Kalawao side of the island just once, in 1893, to travel two miles to the Kalaupapa side to attend to the shipping of Father Damien’s effect to Louvain. He then never left the grounds of the boys’ home or the church across the street until 1930 when he again went to Kalaupapa for eye surgery. He was 87 and had become feeble, nearly blind and almost deaf.
On July 4, 1930, two Sacred Heart brothers took him to Honolulu to St. Francis Hospital. He died there on March 26, 1931. His body was returned to Kalawao, and he was buried next to Father Damien.
Although he lived a penitential life, Dutton often expressed his happiness in his life of service, commonly signing his letters, “Joyfully yours.”
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