The first church in Hawaiʻi was built by the New England Protestant missionaries who arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1820. However, Western religious services had been held in the islands prior to that.
Some would suggest that Catholicism started in Hawaiʻi with the arrival of Don Francisco de Paula Marin (Manini) to the Hawaiian Islands in 1793 or 1794 (at about the age of 20.)
While Marin was reportedly a Spanish Catholic, he did live a polygamous life while in Hawaiʻi. Never-the-less, there are several reports of him baptizing Hawaiian chiefs and others (over three hundred) into the Catholic religion.
In 1819, Kalanimōkū was the first Hawaiian Chief to be formally baptized a Catholic, aboard the French ship Uranie. “The captain and the clergyman asked Young what Ka-lani-moku’s rank was …”
“… and upon being told that he was the chief counselor (kuhina nui) and a wise, kind, and careful man, they baptized him into the Catholic Church” (Kamakau). Shortly thereafter, Boki, Kalanimoku’s brother (and Governor of Oʻahu) was baptized.
It wasn’t until July 7, 1827, however, when the pioneer French Catholic mission arrived in Honolulu. It consisted of three priests of the Order of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Father Alexis Bachelot, Abraham Armand and Patrick Short. They were supported by a half dozen other Frenchmen.
Their first mass was celebrated a week later on Bastille Day, July 14, and a baptism was given on November 30, to a child of Marin.
The American Protestant missionaries and the French Catholics did not get along.
The Congregationalists encouraged a policy preventing the establishment of a Catholic presence in Hawaiʻi. Catholic priests were forcibly expelled from the country in 1831. Native Hawaiian Catholics accused King Kamehameha III and his government of imprisoning, beating and torturing them.
Later that year, Commodore John Downes, of the American frigate Potomac, made a plea for freedom of religion, telling the Hawaiian court that civilized nations did not persecute people for their religion.
While his intervention brought about a brief let-up, the king continued to forbid the presence of Catholic priests.
Finally, on September 30, 1836, the captain of the French Navy ship La Bonté persuaded the king to allow a Catholic priest to disembark in Honolulu. The king restricted the priest’s ministry to foreign Catholics, forbidding him to work with Native Hawaiians.
On April 17, 1837, two other Catholic priests arrived. However, the Hawaiian government forced them back onto a ship on April 30. American, British and French officials in Hawaii intervened and persuaded the king to allow the priests to return to shore.
France, historically a Catholic nation, used its government representatives in Hawaiʻi to protest the mistreatment of Catholic Native Hawaiians. Captain Cyrille-Pierre Théodore Laplace, of the French Navy frigate “Artémise”, sailed into Honolulu Harbor in 1839 to convince the Hawaiian leadership to get along with the Catholics – and the French.
King Kamehameha III feared a French attack on his kingdom and on June 17, 1839 issued the Edict of Toleration permitting religious freedom for Catholics in the same way as it had been granted to the Protestants.
The King also donated land where the first permanent Catholic Church would be constructed, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace; the Catholic mission was finally established on May 15, 1840 when the Vicar Apostolic of the Pacific arrived with three other priests – one of whom, Rev. Louis Maigret, had been refused a landing at Honolulu in 1837.
On July 9, 1840, ground was broken for the foundation of the present Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, and schools and churches were erected on other islands to advance the mission.
At the end of the year 1840, Maigret jots down this balance sheet: Vicariate of Oceania: Catholics: 3,000; Heretics: 30,000 and Unbelievers: 100,000. (Charlot)
On August 15, 1843, the newly-finished cathedral of Honolulu was solemnly dedicated and 800 Catholics received Holy Communion.
From the very start, the Catholic mission also established, wherever feasible, independent schools in charge, or under the supervision, of the priest.
Maigret divided Oʻahu into missionary districts. Shortly after, the Windward coast of Oʻahu was dotted with chapels. The Sacred Hearts Father’s College of Ahuimanu was founded by the Catholic mission on the Windward side of Oʻahu in 1846.
“Outside the city, at Ahuimanu, Maigret has now a country retreat that he refers to by the Hawaiian word māla. It is a combination garden, orchard and kitchen garden.”
Nuhou describes it, “The venerable bishop has built his own vineyard and planted his own orchard … His retreat in the mountain, his “garden in the air” as he terms it, is a pleasant and profitable sight … with a small stone-walled cottage about fifteen feet by ten.” When the pressure of events allows it, Maigret takes refuge there.” (Charlot)
Although the College of Ahuimanu flourished, as apparently reported by the Bishop in 1865, “The college and the schools are doing well. But as the number of pupils is continually on the increase, it has become necessary to enlarge the college. First we have added a story and a top floor with an attic; then we have been obliged to construct a new building. And yet we are lacking room.”
One of its students, Damien (born as Jozef de Veuster,) arrived in Hawaiʻi on March 9, 1864, at the time a 24-year-old choirboy. Determined to become a priest, he had the remainder of the schooling at the College of Ahuimanu.
Bishop Maigret ordained Father Damien de Veuster at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, on May 21, 1864; in 1873, Maigret assigned him to Molokaʻi. Damien spent the rest of his life in Hawaiʻi. In 2009, Father Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI.
The College of Ahuimanu changed locations and also changed its name a couple of times. In 1881, it was renamed “College of St. Louis” in honor of Bishop Maigret’s patron Saint, Louis IX. It was the forerunner for Chaminade College and St Louis High School.
In 1859 the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary arrived at Honolulu to take charge of a boarding and day-school for girls. In 1883-84 the Brothers of Mary, from Dayton, Ohio, took charge of three schools for boys: St. Louis’s College at Honolulu, St. Mary’s School at Hilo and St. Anthony’s School at Wailuku.
In 1882, the mission received a considerable increase by the immigration of Portuguese imported from the Azores as laborers for the plantations.
In January 1883, Walter Gibson, Minister of Foreign Affairs and president of the Board of Health, appealed to Hermann Koeckemann, Bishop of Olba, head of the Catholic Mission in Hawai‘i, to obtain Sisters of Charity from one of the many sisterhoods in the US to come and help care for leprous women and girls in the Islands.
On October 23, 1883, Mother Marianne and her companions set off for Hawai’i, arriving on November 9. These were: Sister M Bonaventure Caraher, Sister Crescentia Eilers, Sister Ludovica Gibbons, Sister M Rosalia McLaughlin, Sister Renata Nash and Sister Mary Antonella Murphy.
Father Damien himself succumbed to leprosy on April 15, 1889. Upon the death of Damien, Mother Marianne agreed to also head the Boys Home at Kalawao. The Board of Health had quickly chosen her as Saint Damien’s successor and she was thus enabled to keep her promise to him to look after his boys.
Mother Marianne was canonized on Oct. 21, 2012, making her the first Franciscan woman to be canonized from North America and only the 11th American saint. Forevermore, she will be known as St Marianne Cope, with the title “beloved mother of outcasts.”
By 1911, Hawaiʻi had 85 priests, 30 churches and 55 chapels. The Catholic population was 35,000; there were 4 academies, a college and 9 parochial schools established by the mission, and the total number of pupils was 2,200.