Like Father Damien, the founder of Damien Ministries felt a calling to join the religious order. However, Louis J. Tesconi didn't answer the call until he was 36. The first half of his life, Lou was a very successful real estate lawyer who had lived in New York, and then Houston, who earned a six-figure income, drove a Mercedes and owned three houses. He had everything money could buy--and discovered his heart was still discontent. After some soul-searching, Lou decided to pursue a different kind of dream--priesthood within the Roman Catholic Church. In 1986, he sold all of his possessions and gave the proceeds and the majority of his money to charities, and moved to Washington, DC to join a Catholic seminary.
Just six weeks after joining the seminary, Lou received life-altering news. He was diagnosed with Kaposi's Sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer. He got the news on a Monday at 2 in the afternoon. By 8 am the next morning, the Church community had requested he leave the order.
Newly diagnosed with AIDS, Lou was devastated to discover he could find no organization or home that would accomodate his vocation and his disease. The Church was clearly not comfortable with facing the issue of AIDS, and was therefore slow to address it. His call to the ministry had not diminished, so Lou decided if he couldn't find a place within the Church, he would make a place for himself. "When there's a missing piece to the puzzle, you find the piece. If you can't find it, you make it," was Lou's mindset.
A few weeks later, in November of 1986, Lou attended a pastoral workshop on AIDS, which was sponsored by the Washington Archdiocese. At the workshop, amidst conversation about ministering to "them" (the AIDS patients), Lou stood up amongst 250 priests and nuns, and asked them all, "When are we going to start seeing it as ministering to our own?" The question shocked those in attendance, but a few attendees responded positively. Support and encouragement came from Monsignor William Curlin of DC Catholic Charities, and from Patricia Hawkins, a Catholic activist and psychologist. With their support, Lou began organizing volunteers and fundraisers. In February of 1987, Lou had raised enough money to open a headquarters for what is now called Damien Ministries, a "community house" opened to serve as home to the volunteers, as well as the hub of all the organization's activity. By August of 1987, the first housing unit in the United States for women living with HIV/AIDS was opened. This was followed quickly by a housing program for men living with HIV/AIDS in December of 1987. In September of 1991, a third housing unit, for Hispanic men, was opened in the District. Lou and the the other volunteers worked tirelessly to not only care for those with the HIV virus, but also strived to educate and involve communities with the AIDS crisis.
Lou Tesconi's dream was to join the Catholic religious community. When that particular religious community turned him away, Lou created his own community of brothers and sisters who were likewise dedicated to caring for those who were suffering with HIV and AIDS. On November 27, 1991, Lou Tesconi passed away at the Damien Community House from complications associated with AIDS. He was 42 years old.
In just under 5 years, Lou Tesconi was able to build not just an organization, but a community, of dedicated volunteers and staff to tend to the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of the "poorest of the poor" living with HIV/AIDS. We are inspired by the example of compassion and love of Blessed Damien of Molokai. And we are continually motivated by the dream of our founder, Lou Tesconi. We feel called to share with, to be with, those most in need, especially those men, women, and children who suffer from what has been termed modern day leprosy--AIDS.