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 (173-years ago today) 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.
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.
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.
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.
The image shows Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in 1843 (it’s still in downtown Honolulu.) It is said to be the oldest Catholic cathedral in continuous use in the United States and one of the oldest existing buildings in the downtown area.
In addition, I have included other images of the Cathedral in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook page..
Likewise, I previously posted on Facebook images of the area as viewed from the top of the cathedral; it’s in a folder titles Images of Old Hawaiʻi – Emmert, Paul (1854.)