The ahupua‘a of Waiakea, South Hilo, is large, about 95,000 acres. It extends from the coast to approximately the 6,000-foot elevation on the windward slope of Mauna Loa.
Waiakea was held by Kamehameha. When he died in 1819, his son Liholiho received the lands. The property was affirmed as Crown Land during the Mahele.
Kuleana properties generally refer to cultivated fields with house lots, indicating habitation and agricultural production within the same zone; at Waiakea, kuleana were generally within the coastal zone.
After contact, the coastal area continued to contain the vast majority of the population. Houses and stores were concentrated in the northern half of Hilo Bay, somewhat removed from Waiakea, because at the time the main pier for Hilo was at the mouth of the Wailuku River. (Cultural Surveys)
Keaukaha is along the central coastline of the Waiakea ahupuaʻa; it was included in lands designated to the Hawaiian Homes Commission.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission act was approved by President Harding on July 9, 1921. In the first five years, over 60 homes were established in the ‘Kuhio Settlement’ of the Hawaiian Homes lands at Keaukaha, in the vicinity of Hilo.
The 1929 Report of the Commission notes, “Kuhio Settlement, in the subdivision of Keaukaha near the town of Hilo, Island of Hawaii, has proven to be an unqualified success.”
“One-acre lots have been given to Hawaiians who work for wages in the City of Hilo or in adjacent industries.” By 1930, more than 200-house lots had been assigned. (Pukui)
Among the ‘reserved lots for public purposes’ within the Keaukaha lands was a 1-acre lot (lot #127) for a Catholic Church Site. (Report of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, 1929)
This church became Malia Puka O Kalani (St Mary, Gate of Heaven,) one of only two parishes in the Diocese of Honolulu located on Hawaiian Home Lands.
The Mission Statement of the church: “Malia Puka O Kalani is a Roman Catholic parish on Hawaiian Home Lands in Keaukaha, Hawaiʻi dedicated to building a church community filled with the Holy Spirit, guided by God’s Word and enriched by the Hawaiian culture.”
In 1934, the parish, under the care of the Sacred Hearts Fathers, built a large hall on the property. This was used as a place of worship as well as a community center. In 1940 the existing church which seats 120 people was constructed.
In 1954, the Maryknoll Fathers assigned the first resident pastor to the parish. Today, the parish is under the care of the Diocese of Honolulu as the ministry on the Hawaiian Homelands continues.
In a 2011 church pastoral plan, parishioners note, “As a parish, we are committed to maintaining our Hawaiian culture within the framework of the Roman Catholic Church.”
“We intend to continue our traditions of lay involvement in liturgy and of volunteerism within and beyond the parish. Parishioners and visitors alike are drawn to our vibrant community and to the spirit existing in the faith expression of our Hawaiian traditions.”
DHHL records note the St. Mary, Gate of Heaven (Malia Puka O Kalani) Catholic Church is operating under a license from the Commission (1999-2028.)
About 35-years ago, Malia Puka O Kalani Catholic Church started a small Advent workshop known as the Big Island Liturgy and Arts Conference. It grew.
It is recognized as “One of the remarkable accomplishments of Malia …. This conference has attracted many of today’s brightest and best known composers and artists”. (GIA Music for the Church)
It has grown to attract some of the biggest names in liturgical music and many noteworthy keynote speakers. The Marianists in Honolulu began hosting the event in 2003.
The program is now known as Marianist BILAC; all the conference events now take place on the campus of Chaminade University and Saint Louis School in Kaimuki. (This year’s theme is ‘The Spirit of Malia – 40 Years of BILAC;’ it starts November 5, 2015.) (Lots of information here is from Malia Puka O Kalani.)