Decorated U.S. sailor turned missionary, who served at Okinawa leprosy facility, dies at 88

by Alastair Wanklyn

Staff Writer

The Rev. Charles Brozat, an American missionary whose 54-year service in Japan included a decade ministering to leprosy sufferers in Okinawa, has died at the age of 88.

Brozat served with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II and received two Bronze Stars. He later attended college and joined the Society of Atonement, a Franciscan order based in Graymoor, New York, volunteering for service in Japan.

“He was well loved,” said the Rev. Pacificus von Essen, who worked with Brozat in Japan. “He was very mission-minded, and he stayed here even when his health became quite bad.”

Brozat arrived in 1957 and undertook language training in Tokyo before serving in a range of parishes, including in Kawasaki and Yokohama.

In 1977 he was assigned to a mission in Nago, Okinawa, where he ministered to Hansen’s disease patients at National Sanatorium Okinawa Airakuen, a government-run facility.

The center was one of several nationwide where people with leprosy were forcibly interned and, in some cases, coerced into being sterilized. In 2001, the state was forced to pay compensation to victims on the grounds that internment was unconstitutional.

Although Brozat left few written reflections about his service in Japan, a fellow priest wrote of Brozat’s “tireless” work during a visit to the leprosy facility one Christmas, likely in the early 1980s.

The document, held in the archives of the Society of Atonement, describes a Christmas Mass celebrated by Brozat in the modest chapel at Aira-kuen with 40 leprosy victims in attendance.

Brozat offered a liturgy and sermon “fit for a basilica,” the Rev. Capistran Ferrito, a Capuchin friar, wrote.

Ferrito added, “I have no doubt that he is definitely stepping into St. Paul’s missionary footsteps.”

Brozat retired in 2011, whereupon he settled in Ringwood, New Jersey. His death, on Oct. 13, was announced last week.