Hawaii, The Catholic Church in
HAWAII, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Roman Catholic Church grew from banishment, persecution, and tragedy to become the largest religious body in the state of Hawaii. For most of its history, it was a mission territory administered by missionary personnel from Europe and the United States, until the establishment of the Diocese of Honolulu in 1941, weeks before the United States was plunged into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Oahu. Hawaii became the 50th state of the union in 1959, growing rapidly from an economy dominated by agriculture into a major tourist destination and the communications, trading and military hub of the central Pacific. The Diocese of Honolulu, a suffragan see of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, spans the entire state. By the start of the 21st century it had grown into an active multi-ethnic community blending native Hawaiian and American traditions with the cultures and contributions of immigrants from Asia and the South Pacific.
Hawaii is an archipelago of more than 100 islands of which only seven are large enough to sustain permanent populations, stretching through more than 1,500 miles of mid-Pacific Ocean bisecting the Tropic of Cancer in a southeast to northwest arch. Geologically, they are the tips of volcanic mountains resulting from ocean floor eruptions that began perhaps as long as 40 million years ago and which continue today.
The oldest island is Kure Atoll at the archipelago's northwest end. At its southeast tip is the youngest and largest island, Hawai'i, which gives the entire chain its name and is also commonly known as the Big Island. In relative close proximity are the rest of the populated islands—Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau.
Oahu, the third largest in size after the Big Island and Maui, is the location of the capital city of Honolulu, the center of government and commerce in Hawaii, and home to eight-tenths of the state's population. Honolulu is also where the Catholic Church has its central administrative offices and bishop's residence.
Polynesians from Pacific islands to the south and southwest of Hawaii were the first to populate the Hawaiian Islands, arriving in waves of migration that began as early as 600–800 A.D. When British explorer Captain James Cook arrived in 1778, nearly 300 years after Columbus landed in the new world, he had "discovered" the last significant territory on earth to be visited by Europeans. Captain Cook named his discovery the Sandwich Islands after the Earl of Sandwich in his native England.
In Hawaii, the British explorer found a highly developed, albeit stone-age, civilization with its own unique religion, a complicated caste system, and sophisticated capabilities in open-ocean navigation, featherwork, woodwork, stone carving, fishing and agriculture. He also found a people whose centuries of isolation from the rest of the world had left them free of many of humanity's most common diseases and who consequently lacked any immunity toward them. The result was disastrous. In the first 100 years since Captain Cook's arrival, diseases introduced into Hawaii devastated its population, reducing it from an estimated 250,000 to 40,000.
The first recorded Catholic baptisms in Hawaii, that of two high chiefs, occurred in the summer of 1819, although a Spanish layman and resident of Hawaii named Don Francisco de Paulo Marin claimed to have baptized 300 natives earlier. The more significant of the 1819 baptisms, performed by a chaplain on a visiting French vessel, was conferred on Boki Kamauleule, the governor of Oahu. He would later prove to be a vital supporter of the growing Catholic mission of Hawaii.
It was not until 1827 that the first official Catholic missionaries arrived in the islands. They were members of the French-based Congregation of the sacred hearts of jesus and mary to whom Rome had given the assignment. The missionaries were Father Alexis Bachelot, Father Patrick Short and Father Abraham Armand, and three religious brothers. They arrived on July 7, 1827, celebrating the first recorded Mass on Hawaiian soil six days later in Honolulu on July 13. They secured mission property in Honolulu which remains in use by the church today as the site of the present Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.
The Catholic missionaries were not warmly welcomed by the Hawaiian Kingdom. They had been preceded seven years earlier by members of the American Protestant Mission of Massachusetts, whose Congregationalist and Presbyterian ministers had solidly established favor with the Hawaiian royalty. The Protestants had made great progress in a short amount of time, establishing an alphabet for the Hawaiian language which previously had only been spoken, setting up a printing operation, and opening schools. Their influence also resulted in the rulers of Hawaii outlawing the ancient Hawaiian religion with its many idols and stone temples.
The Protestants saw the Catholic priests as rivals. Although the Catholics proceeded peacefully and were nonconfrontational, they faced opposition and disapproval. Because of their statues and crucifixes, they were accused of illegal idol worship. However, as long as Boki was governor of Oahu, they had a faithful defender in a high place. When Boki was lost at sea in 1830, the persecution of Catholics began, led primarily by the powerful Queen Kaahumanu, and later by her successor Kinau.
One of the immediate results of Kaahumanu's hardline policies was the expulsion from the islands of Fathers Bachelot and Patrick Short on December 24, 1831. Father Armand had departed two years earlier because of illness. The Sacred Hearts Brothers were left to maintain the Honolulu mission.
The islands were without a Catholic priest until the arrival of Sacred Hearts Father Robert Arsenius Walsh on Sept. 30, 1836. Being a British subject, he was permitted to stay but prohibited from converting native Hawaiians. Father Walsh's presence in Hawaii prompted the return of Fathers Bachelot and Short on April 17, 1837, and a few months later, the arrival of Sacred Hearts Father Louis Maigret. But all three were met with renewed opposition and were expelled before the year ended. On December 5, the sickly Father Bachelot died at sea and was buried on the tiny reef island Na, off Ponape, in the Caroline Islands.
During this period, the natives were given harsh punishments for the "crime" of being Catholic. Hundreds were imprisoned and forced into hard labor. In December 1837, the Catholic religion was declared illegal by official ordinance. Father Walsh escaped deportation only because he was British.
It took a threat of war to stop the persecution. On July 9, 1839, the French warship L'Artemise dropped anchor in Honolulu Harbor. Its captain, Cyril Laplace, demanded religious freedom for Catholics in Hawaii. If not granted, he would retaliate by firing his ship's cannons on the city of Honolulu. That declaration, later called "Laplace's Manifesto," was enough to pressure King Kamehameha III into a concession and he stopped the persecution.
Under the new mantle of religious liberty, the Catholic mission enjoyed a quick revival. Bishop Stephen Rouchouze, vicar apostolic of eastern Oceania of which Hawaii was a part, arrived with other priests on May 15, 1840. Rouchouze laid the cornerstone for the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. It was dedicated, Aug. 15, 1843, and remains one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in continuous use in the United States. It is also the oldest building structure in downtown Honolulu and the oldest Catholic church in Hawaii.
Rouchouze's efforts to initiate missions through the islands soon suffered a tragic setback. In order to meet the challenge of his expanded mission, Bishop Rouchouze went back to France in 1841 to have a ship built and outfitted, and missionaries recruited for the islands. The ship, the Marie Joseph, on its maiden voyage to Hawaii, was lost at sea in March 1843 near the Strait of Magellan, taking with it the bishop, six priests, one seminarian, seven brothers and nine sisters. It would be 16 years before another ship would bring Sacred Hearts Sisters from Europe around Cape Horn to Hawaii.
In 1845, King Kamehameha III gave land in Kahaluu, Oahu, to the Catholic Mission for the building of a school. The following year, Ahuimanu College, the first Catholic school in Hawaii, began operation. Meanwhile, Catholic religious education on the island of Maui was prospering without the benefit of any priest. In a circumstance unique in Hawaii Catholic history, thousands of Maui natives had been instructed in the faith by a young lay catechist named Helio Mahoe and a few others. By the time two priests arrived on the island on April 21, 1846, 4,000 Hawaiians were ready to be baptized.
In 1847, Father Louis Maigret was consecrated a bishop and named the first vicar apostolic of Hawaii. May 4, 1859, marked the arrival of the first nuns in Hawaii, the sacred hearts sisters. They established a convent school next to the cathedral, the first of several schools for girls they would eventually open. The Sacred Hearts Academy is the largest Catholic girls school in the state.
Blessed Damien de Veuster. Damien de veuster arrived in Honolulu on March 19, 1864. Born Joseph De Veuster, Jan. 3, 1840, in Tremelo, Belgium, at age 18, he joined his older brother Auguste in the Congregation of the sacred hearts of jesus and mary (SS.CC.) taking the religious name Damien after the ancient physiciansaint. After ordination to the priesthood in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, a few months after his arrival, his first assignment was on the Big Island of Hawaii where he spent ten years.
During this time, Hansen's disease, or leprosy, was ravaging the native Hawaiian people who were particularly susceptible to its virus. The Hawaiian government responded to the dreaded incurable affliction with a solution as old as the Bible—quarantine and isolation. King Kamehameha V decreed that anyone with leprosy would be sent to the small Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai, inaccessible except by sea or a treacherous cliff trail. There, hundreds of leprosy patients of all ages were left to fend for themselves and to die in squalid and lawless conditions.
Bishop Louis Maigret was extremely concerned about the plight of those abandoned in Kalaupapa but was reluctant to make the place a permanent clergy assignment. Father Damien was the first of four priests who volunteered to go there on rotation. He arrived on Molokai on May 10, 1873, and soon after wrote his bishop that it was "absolutely necessary" for a priest to remain there permanently and that he would be willing to be the one. Father Damien spent the next 16 years bringing dignity to a settlement the rest of the Hawaii had abandoned. He served as priest, doctor, nurse, carpenter, plumber, gravedigger, and coffin maker. Disregarding medical precautions for himself, he ate with the people, accepted them into his house and touched them. He brought normalcy to a condemned world, organizing a choir and a children's band, supervising religious organizations, and directing religious education. He eventually contracted the disease himself and succumbed on April 15, 1889, the Monday of Holy Week, at age 49. He was buried beside his church, St. Philomena. At the request of the Belgian government, his body was returned to his home country in 1936. A cure for Hansen's disease was found in the 1940s and in 1969, the State Board of health ended its policy of segregating those with the disease.
Hawaii received its first major influx of Catholic immigrants with the arrival of the first Portuguese farm laborers from the Azores in 1878. By the end of the 19th century, more than 18,000 would settle in Hawaii. With the decrease of the Hawaiian population, Catholic missionary efforts began shifting their ministry toward these newcomers.
Bishop Maigret died on June 11, 1882, after laboring 42 years in Hawaii, 35 years as its bishop. His administration had seen a Catholic conversion of the Hawaiian people rivaling and exceeding the Protestant efforts. As primary builder of the cathedral, he was buried below its sanctuary. Succeeding him was Bishop Hermann Koeckemann.
The year after Bishop Maigret's death, 1883, saw the arrival of two religious orders that would have a tremendous affect on Hawaii. The first, landing in September, were the educator brothers of the Society of Mary, or marianists. They opened Catholic boys' schools on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. Their Honolulu school, St. Louis, continues to be one of the state's most prominent educational institutions.
Two months later, on November 8, six franciscan sisters from Syracuse, NY, led by Mother Marianne cope, arrived to assist the Hansen's disease patients at the Kakaako Branch Hospital in Honolulu. Marianne Cope had been superior of the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, NY, in 1883 when she responded to a plea from King Kalakaua for a nursing order to care for the unattended sick, including 200 leprosy patients, in Honolulu. Not only did Mother Marianne quickly fulfill the Hawaii government's needs, she also opened a hospital on Maui. In 1888, five months before the death of Father Damien, she and two sisters arrived at Kalaupapa to run the settlement's two homes for the sick and homeless.
She remained in Kalaupapa after Father Damien's death. As medical professionals, she and her sisters treated the patients with compassion and without fear, following proper sanitary precautions. She predicted that none of her sisters would ever contract leprosy, and none ever did. She died on August 8, 1918, of natural causes at age 80 and is buried in Kalaupapa.
Church comes of age. Bishop Gulstan Ropert was appointed the mission's third vicar apostolic on June 3,1892. On April 6, 1903, Bishop Libert Boeynaems was named its fourth vicar apostolic. The fifth vicar apostolic, Bishop Stephen Alencastre, grew up in Hawaii having immigrated to the islands at age five with his family. He was named to head the Catholic mission on May 13, 1926. During his administration, he established Catholic schools and orphanages, launched Honolulu's first Catholic hospital, and set up a small seminary. In 1929, he divided the Honolulu Mission into nine "quasi-parishes." Bishop Alencastre also invited to the islands the mary-knoll fathers and maryknoll sisters who played a large part in the shaping of the island church in the 20th century.
Two events in 1940 forecast the Hawaii mission's coming of age. First was the ordination of the first three local-born "diocesan" priests, though the church was not yet a diocese. The second was the unexpected death on Nov. 9, 1940, of the beloved Bishop Alencastre. With his death, the Hawaii Catholic mission era came to an end.
On Sept. 10, 1941, the Catholic Church in Hawaii, at age 114, was elevated to the status of Diocese of Honolulu. Father James J. Sweeney, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, was consecrated as the first diocesan bishop. At that time, the new diocese had 112 churches, 17 schools, 82 priests, 78 brothers, 250 sisters, and 120,000 faithful.
The Diocese of Honolulu. For its first four years the diocese was in "war-support-mode" because of the central role that Hawaii played in the Pacific war effort. But with the war's end in 1945, the fledgling diocese came to life with energy and enthusiasm. In 1946, St. Stephen Diocesan Minor Seminary opened. The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the introduction of Catholic Charities and other new diocesan offices, a flurry of church and school construction, the introduction of new religious orders, and the flourishing of lay organizations, sodalities and societies. In 1957, Bishop Sweeney convened the first diocesan synod.
The diocese continued to grow through the 1960s, conscientiously embracing the renewal introduced by the Second Vatican Council, even as it went through the same social and religious turmoil as the rest of the country. Bishop Sweeney died in 1968 and was succeeded by his auxiliary, Bishop John J. Scanlan.
In 1970, in spite of strong opposition on the part of Bishop Scanlan and the Catholic diocese, Hawaii became the first state in the union to liberalize its abortion laws, predating by one year, the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision which essentially legalized abortion for the rest of the nation.
The church of the 1970s responded to the times, welcoming refugees from the Vietnam War, establishing a residence for pregnant unwed mothers, and seeing growth in such groups as the Charismatic renewal movement, marriage encounter and cursillo. A drop off in vocations to the priesthood led to the eventual closing of the seminary in the early 1980s. During his administration, Bishop Scanlan also invited a number of religious orders to the islands from Asia, including Carmelite Sisters from Hong Kong and sisters from the Philippines to staff the local parochial schools.
Upon Bishop Scanlan's retirement in 1982, auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Ferrario was named the third bishop of the Diocese of Honolulu. Bishop Ferrario had come to Hawaii from Scranton, PA, as a seminary professor in 1957 and was incardinated in the diocese in 1966. As bishop, he presided over a maturing of liturgical practice in the diocese, an increase in ecumenical outreach and adult religious education, and a significant expansion of Catholic Charities and parish social ministries. In 1985, Bishop Ferrario renovated and elevated St. Theresa Church in Honolulu to the status of co-cathedral to ease the smaller and less accessible Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace of some of its liturgical burdens. Bishop Ferrario retired because of health reasons in 1993 and was succeeded by Bishop Francis X. Di Lorenzo, a Philadelphia native and auxiliary Bishop of Scranton.
As the fourth bishop of Honolulu, Di Lorenzo was formally installed on Nov. 30, 1994. He introduced a diocese-wide parish renewal and review program called the "Welcoming Parish," and in June 2000 convened the diocese's second synod in order to prepare the church in Hawaii for the 21st century. He also increased and strengthened the diocese's ethnic ministries to serve newly arrived immigrants, in particular the Filipinos, Vietnamese, Samoans, Koreans, and Chinese. The Filipinos, who are largely Catholic, were by far the largest of these groups and therefore became the diocese's biggest ethnic ministry challenge. According to the Diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries, Filipinos make up about one half of the Catholic population of Hawaii.
By the beginning of the 21st century, the Catholic population of Hawaii had grown to 236,688, and it continues to grow with the population. This figure does not include the Catholics in the armed services who fall under the jurisdiction. of the U.S. Military Archdiocese. Routinely the dozen or more Catholic chaplains assigned to the military bases operate independently of the Diocese of Honolulu but enjoy a cooperative relationship with it. The second largest religious group after the Catholic Church is Buddhism, which counted about 100,000 adherents at the end of the 20th century, all sects combined.
The Catholic Church in Hawaii mirrors the multiethnic blend that makes up the local population where no single ethnic group holds a majority. In fact, because of the commonly accepted practice of interracial marriage, one of the largest population groupings belongs to those of mixed ancestry. Other larger racial blocks include part-Hawaiians, Caucasians, and Asians. They are served by 66 parishes, three ethnic Catholic parish communities, and one Eastern Catholic Apostolate.
The Congregation for the Sacred Hearts and the Marianists continue to remain among the largest communities of religious men in Hawaii. In the 1980s, the Capuchin Franciscans added Hawaii to its Guam vice province, and the Philippine province of the La Salette Fathers increased their presence in the islands. On the other hand, the Maryknoll Fathers, who manned a large number of parishes during much of the 20th century reduced their numbers to only a handful by the year 2000. In most places parishes are staffed by at least one or two priests, a small but increasing percentage of whom come from Asia, particularly the Philippines. Hawaii also has 50 active permanent deacons. Among the orders of religious women, the largest are the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, and the Maryknoll Sisters.
Bibliography: r. schoofs, ss.cc., Pioneers of the Faith (Honolulu 1978). m. d. pires, ss.cc., Shrouded in Mystery—The Marie Joseph: A Remarkably Courageous and Tragic Missionary Venture (Honolulu 2000). l. lueras, editor, Hawaii (Hong Kong 1981). g. daws, Holy Man (New York 1973). m. l. hanley, o.s.f., and o.a. bushnell, Pilgrimage and Exile—Mother Marianne of Molokai (Honolulu 1991).