On July 7, 1827, 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.
The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar (SS.CC.) (better known as the Congregation of Picpus) is a Roman Catholic religious institute of brothers, priests and nuns. (The letters following their names, SS.CC., are the Latin initials for Sacrorum Cordium, “of the Sacred Hearts”.)
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 Don Francisco de Paula Marin.
In 1837, two other Catholic priests arrived (Rev Louis Maigret was one of them). However, the Hawaiian government forced them back onto a ship. Maigret sailed to Pohnpei in Micronesia to set up a mission there; he was the first missionary they had seen. He later departed for Valparaiso (Chile.)
American, British and French officials in Hawaii intervened and persuaded the king to allow the priests to return to shore. On June 17, 1839, King Kamehameha III issued the Edict of Toleration permitting religious freedom for Catholics.
The King also donated land where the first permanent Catholic Church would be constructed; the Catholic mission was finally established on May 15, 1840 when the Vicar Apostolic of the Pacific arrived with three other priests – including Rev. Louis Maigret.
Father Maigret was appointed the first Vicar Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands (now the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu.) They sought to expand the Catholic presence.
At the end of the year 1840, Maigret jotted down this balance sheet: Vicariate of Oceania: Catholics: 3,000; Heretics: 30,000 and Unbelievers: 100,000. (Charlot)
Maigret oversaw the construction of what would become his most lasting legacy, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, still standing and in use in downtown Honolulu. Maigret was officially ordained as a Bishop on November 28, 1847.
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.”
“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)
“The situation of Ahuimanu is very fine. It is in a basin formed by volcanic action. The sea is in the foreground; and its background is a lofty mountain ridge, eight hundred feet high, which is a very wall, whose coping stones are ever in the clouds, and whose foot is buttressed by outreaching spurs, like the everlasting ramparts made by the hand of God.”
“The men of faith who claim that their church is founded on a Rock, have founded this establishment within a ‘munition of rocks,’ from whose fissures there gush forth sweet cool streams in refreshing bounty flowing like waters of life over a hungry land.”
“This ample irrigation feeds redundant taro patches, well burthened banana groves, well loaded peach orchards, producing the most delicious fruit we have eaten in those isles; also groves of mangoes, chirimoyas, rose apples, Tahitian wi, and other choice fruits of tropic lands.” (Nuhou, 7/15/1873)
One of its students was Jozef de Veuster; he was born in Tremeloo, Belgium, in 1840. Like his older brother Pamphile, Jozef studied to be a Catholic priest in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts.
Jozef 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 Jozef as Father Damien at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, on May 21, 1864. “Here I am a priest, dear parents, here I am a missionary in a corrupt, heretical, idolatrous country. How great my obligations are! How great my apostolic zeal must be!” (Damien to parents; Daws)
Early in June, 1864, Maigret appointed Damien to Puna on the east coast of the island of Hawai‘i; another new missionary, Clement Evrard, was appointed to Kohala-Hāmākua.
Damien learned the Hawaiian language (he had just previously learned English during his long journey to Hawai‘i). His Hawaiian was far from perfect, but he could manage to get by with it. Damien’s name became ‘Kamiano.’
Like most Catholic missionaries of that time, he saw his mission in intense competition with that of the Protestant ‘heretics,’ who did not kneel while praying and who distributed the local kalo (taro,) instead of bread for communion and even water instead of wine. (de Volder)
Shortly after arriving in Puna, in a letter to Pamphile, Damien wrote, “I regret not being a poet or a good writer so as to describe our new country to you.” Although he had not yet seen the active Kilauea volcano erupting, he added, “from what the other Fathers say it seems there is nothing like it in the world to give a correct idea of Hell.” (Daws)
A few months in Puna taught Damien at first-hand what he had heard in advance from the Maui missionaries: that life in the field was nothing like life as a novice in the religious order in Europe.
“Instead of a tranquil and withdrawn life, it is a question of getting used to traveling by land and sea, on horseback and on foot; instead of strictly observing silence, it is necessary to learn to speak several languages with all kinds of people …”
“… instead of being directed you have to direct others; and the hardest of all is to preserve, in the middle of a thousand miseries and vexations, the spirit of meditation and prayer.” (Damien in letter to father-general of the Sacred Hearts, 1862; Daws)
Father Clement Evard, his closest but distant neighbor, had an even more formidable area to cover: the double district of Kohala-Hāmākua, about a quarter of the Island. He was not as strong as Damien.
Damien carried his church on his back (a portable alter which he set up with four sticks pounded into the ground and a board balances on top with a cover cloth.)
His life was simple – with the help of the faithful, Damien began to do some small farming (keeping sheep pigs and chickens; bees for honey and wax for candle making; etc). “The calabash of poi is always full; there is also meat; water in quantity, coffee and bread sometimes, wine and beer never.” (Daws)
Eight months after they arrived in their respective districts, Damien and Clement discussed exchanging posts; in early 1865, Damien left Puna for Kohala-Hāmākua.
In 1873, Maigret assigned him to Molokai. Damien spent the rest of his life in Hawaiʻi. In 2009, 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.