In the early-1500s, Jean de Joyeuse presented a wedding gift to his young bride, Francoise e Voisins; it was a dark hardwood statue (11-inches tall) of the Blessed Mother, depicted as a dignified Grecian matron with the Christ Child on her left arm and an olive branch in her right hand – it was known as “Virgin of Joyeuse.”
Over the years, the statue was passed down through the family; then, one family member joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Paris and brought the statue with him to the monastery.
Over the next couple of centuries, the statue – with the olive branch in her hand and the Prince of Peace on her arm – was acclaimed (and renamed) Notre Dame de Paix … Our Lady of Peace. On July 9, 1657, before a large crowd (including King Louis XIV,) the papal nuncio to France blessed and solemnly enthroned the Blessed Mother’s statue.
The French Revolution, which started in 1789, put Our Lady of Peace in hiding; when peace had been restored, the statue was given to a priest in Paris (Father Marie-Joseph Pierre Coudrin,) who gave it to a nun (Mother Henriette Aymer de la Chevalerie.)
On May 6, 1806, the statue was enshrined in a convent chapel in the Picpus district of Paris. (In 1800, the priest and nun co-founded a community of sisters, brothers and priests – the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – members were known more simply as the Picpus or Sacred Hearts.)
In Hawaiʻi, King Kamehameha III donated land for the first permanent Catholic Church; it was named the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace (it’s the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral in continuous use in the US.) It was dedicated on August 15, 1843; a statue of Our Lady of Peace stands on the mauka side of the cathedral.
On May 4, 1859 the Sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament arrived at Honolulu.
On July 9 of that year, they opened the Sacred Hearts Convent, a boarding and day school for young women, at the Catholic mission. (Initial enrollment was just five girls, but the population increased greatly by the time of the new school building’s opening.)
Five bays of the original 20 bay building remain on Fort Street. The bays included the relief moldings spelling out “AD 1859” to commemorate the year of the sisters’ arrival and the beginnings of the Catholic Church’s school, not the date of construction (it was built in 1901.)
A separate chapel, infirmary and additional classroom spaces were on other parts of the Cathedral grounds. The sisters resided in rooms near the large school house and among the girls in the dormitories located at the rear of the Cathedral property.
Between 1906 and 1909, representatives of the Catholic community acquired a five-and-a-half acre tract of land on the makai side of Waiʻalae Avenue, just off the streetcar line in the growing suburban area of Kaimuki.
In 1909, Bishop Libert Boeynaems, SS.CC., asked the Sisters to establish a Catholic secondary school for women in Kaimuki. Academy of the Sacred Hearts welcomed its first seventy-five students and nineteen boarders on September 12, 1909.
The new Sacred Hearts Academy opened officially with its dedication on September 5, 1909; classes for the first class of 33 boarders and 20 day students began on September 13. Eleven sisters, formerly residing at Fort Street, moved to the new school. Within a short time, the school expanded to include young women from kindergarten to the twelfth grade.
In addition to the Convent and the Academy, the Sisters opened an orphanage, St Anthony’s Home, in 1909. They began St Patrick School, Kaimuki, in 1930; St Theresa School, Liliha, in 1931; Our Lady of Peace School, Nuʻuanu, in 1933; and Immaculate Conception School, Līhuʻe, in 1951.
The building back on Fort Street remained in service until 1937, when the school’s educational functions shifted to other church properties and the resident sisters moved to a new convent at the former Baldwin Estate near School Street in Nuʻuanu.
The new owners converted the building to a more conventional commercial frontage. The mauka side commercial front probably dates from the 1940s, when the new owners stripped the decorative façade and replaced it with a smooth concrete facing.
The makai side became the Ritz Department Store in 1954. The Ritz completed the conversion of the Fort Street façade to a large, stark concrete panel, embellished by a vertical “RITZ” sign and horizontal metal canopy stretching across the entire frontage. (The Catholic Church repurchased the property in 2007, converting a space used by the Church of Scientology into a Catholic museum.)
In 1990, the Sisters passed the administration of Sacred Hearts to a lay staff, but the school continues the traditions of providing a quality Catholic education for Hawaii’s women. The governance of the Academy rests in a Board of Directors, with specific powers reserved to a religious Board of Members.
The school has grown to 1,100 students, in grades preschool to 12th grade. In 2003, the school was recognized as a national service learning school and, in 2007, it was recognized as a national school of character, one of 10 in the nation.