In 1832, twelve years after initiation of the American Protestant Mission, a young New England Protestant minister, the Reverend Harvey R Hitchcock, was sent with his wife to Christianize the people of Molokai. They settled at Kalua‘aha. The first Protestant church at Kalua‘aha was built of thatch in early 1833.
A school soon followed, and it was not long before a small community was forming around the church buildings. It became the social center of the entire island, with people coming from as far away as the windward valleys, over the pali and by canoe, just to attend church sermons on Sunday. (Strazar)
Despite Kalaupapa’s distance from that station, its residents often climbed the pali or came by sea to attend church meetings. (NPS)
The Kalua‘aha Mission Station Report (1836-37) notes, “At Kalaupapa a populous district on the windward side of the island and about thirty miles from the station a school of 160 scholars might be collected immediately were there a teacher to superintend it.”
Hitchcock held a three-day meeting at Kala‘e, on the cliffs above Kalaupapa, in 1838, which was attended by many from the peninsula and the northern valleys. (An out-station of the Kalua‘aha mission was established there around 1840.) In 1839 a Hawai’ian missionary teacher named Kanakaokai was stationed on the peninsula.
Hitchcock noted on a tour of the island in August of that year that a large stone meeting house had been constructed at Kalaupapa with a thatched house for the missionary.
Adjacent to the house was a field where cotton was planted to be used at a missionary spinning and weaving school at Lahaina, Maui. Hitchcock also mentioned that people living in Pelekunu were part of the Kalaupapa congregation. (NPS)
In 1841 the population of Kalaupapa, probably including Waikolu Valley, was about 700 persons, of which 30 were church members. Hitchcock noted that “There are considerable comfortable accommodations for a family there, a large native house walled in – The meeting house is large.” (Kalau‘aha Mission Station Report, 1841)
By 1847 the first Kalaupapa stone meetinghouse had been replaced with a more substantial structure measuring twenty-eight by seventy feet. Also another missionary, the Reverend C. B. Andrews, had been assigned as assistant to Hitchcock on Molokai. (NPS)
“The People at Kalaupapa who have but recently finished a stone house – 60 by 30 feet, are now engaged in collecting funds for a new and more durable one intending to devote the old one to the use of the school.” (Kalau‘ahu Mission Station Report, 1851)
Then, life in the Islands, and the peninsula, changed. In 1865, the Legislative Assembly passed, and King Kamehameha V approved, ‘An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy,’ which set apart land to isolate people believed capable of spreading the disease. (NPS)
On January 6, 1866, the first group of patients including nine men and three women arrived. Of the twelve who arrived on that day, two men and a woman – Kahauliko, Lono and Nahuina – would go on to become founding members of the first church to be established in the settlement. (Keawelai)
During the first year of patients arriving at Kalawao in 1866, church members came together and formed a Congregational church, they named it Siloama, Church of the Healing Spring.
“Thrust out by mankind, these 12 women and 23 men, crying aloud to God, their only refuge, formed a church, the first in the desolation that was Kalawao.”
Despite being hungry, cold, and, at times, neglected, the people of Kalawao worked hard from the very beginning to build their own community, establishing a church the very first year. Siloama Church – the Church of the Healing Spring – gave residents something to cling to, a refuge in God. (HCUCC)
The Protestant patients organized a congregation and saved $125.50 for a church building. Additional funds were donated in Honolulu and lumber shipped to Kalawao. (NPS)
Siloama Protestant Church was the first church to be erected at Kalawao Settlement at Kalaupapa, it was originally constructed and dedicated on October 28, 1871 by the Protestant Congregational Church.
The church was named for the pool of Siloam (the Hebrew word ‘Siloam’ means ‘sent,’ Pool of the Sent.) It was where Jesus told a blind man, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:7)
Kana‘ana Hou Church (New Canaan church) was a branch of Siloama’s church; it was built in Kalaupapa in 1878 and enlarged in 1890. In 1881, the congregations of Kalawao and Kalaupapa united as Kanaana Hou. Siloama Church was rebuilt in the 1960s.
Belgium-born Joseph De Veuster arrived in Honolulu on March 19, 1864. There he was ordained a Catholic Priest in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on May 31 and took the name of Damien.
His first calling was on the big island of Hawai‘i, where he spent eight years, serving in Puna, Koala and Hāmākua. He learned of the need for priests to serve the 700 Hansen’s disease victims confined at Kalawao; he arrived on May 10, 1873 (following the Protestants and Mormons to the isolated peninsula.)