President Barack Obama praised Friday the Roman Catholic Church's canonization of the priest who founded a lepers' colony in Hawaii.

Obama issued a statement professing his "deep admiration" for the life of Father Damien de Veuster, who established the island of Molokai in Hawaii as a haven for lepers in the late 19th century.

"I wish to express my deep admiration for the life of Blessed Damien de Veuster, who will be canonized on Sunday by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI," Obama said in a statement. "I also want to convey my best wishes to the Kingdom of Belgium and its people, who are proud to count Fr. Damien among their great citizens."

"Father Damien," as he is colloquially known to American Catholics, takes on a special significance to Hawaiians, where the president spent formative years in his youth.

Fr. Damien will be the ninth U.S. saint in history, and is expected to be canonized this month by Pope Benedict XVI.

The president called on the world to learn from the lesson of the soon-to-be saint when it comes to treating victims of HIV and AIDS.

"In our own time as millions around the world suffer from disease, especially the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, we should draw on the example of Fr. Damien’s resolve in answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick," he said.