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Church celebrates century of service

For more than a century now, St. Joseph Catholic Church has called the corner of Haili and Kapiolani streets home.

Construction was completed in 1918, but the parish will soon celebrate the centennial anniversary of the church’s 1919 dedication.

“It’s not all the time we get the honor of celebrating 100 years of service to our community,” said Ann Usagawa, editor of the church’s centennial keepsake book. “And we feel that we’re not only serving our Catholic community, but we try to serve the other denominations and people in East Hawaii because that’s what we’re here for.”

Although the dedication’s actual 100th anniversary passed in February, the church will celebrate the milestone this weekend, from Friday until Sunday — closer to St. Joseph’s feast day which is on Tuesday.

A number of events are planned for the anniversary celebration:

• 7 p.m. Friday: Five choir concert at the church with guest singers.

• 1 p.m. Saturday: Marriage validation Mass with Bishop Larry Silva; 5 p.m. marriage renewal vows Mass with pastor and priests.

• 1 p.m. Sunday: Fiesta with food, entertainment and displays, in the church parking lot.

The history of the parish, however, extends long before the church was erected.

While the first recorded Catholic baptism in Hawaii occurred in 1819 at Kawaihae Harbor, the first Catholic missionaries to Hawaii, The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, arrived in Honolulu from France in 1827, according to a history of St. Joseph church and the Catholic mission printed in the centennial book.

In 1846, French-born Father Charles Pouzot arrived in Hilo and began to minister here.

Two years later, the chapel of St. Martin of Tours, a predecessor to St. Joseph, was built in Piihonua and blessed by Pouzot. In 1862, a new chapel — the first St. Joseph Church — on Keawe Street, between what is now Waianuenue Avenue and Kalakaua Street, was dedicated.

Father James Beissel, who was appointed pastor of St. Joseph Church in 1909, purchased the lot on the corner of Haili and Kapiolani streets — where the church now stands — in 1915.

Built in 1918, the new St. Joseph Catholic Church was dedicated on Feb. 23, 1919.

Usagawa said it’s wonderful to celebrate the dedication’s anniversary “because we’re in the footsteps of our spiritual ancestors and we are living the faith and living in this beautiful holy space, and we’re trying to maintain it and up keep it for future generations.”

Father Wilbert Laroga, who has served as pastor of St. Joseph for nearly three years, said it’s an honor to continue the “legacy of our ancestors” and their dream.

“Just imagine how the original people visualized this church, why they created this church, why they built this church,” he said. “It’s for the future, to … pass on the faith that they have. So if they don’t build this church, then (there is) nothing to pass on.”

In the future, the church focus will be on the youth, “bringing them up in the faith and helping them in their emotional and spiritual growth,” Usagawa said.

There are currently around 2,500 families on record as members, but that number used to be as high as 5,000.

“Our congregation now is mostly older people,” Laroga said. “So that is why we try to reach out (to) the young.”

According to a news release, current church ministries reflect four pillars of stewardship: hospitality, prayer, faith formation and service.

The Hot Meals ministry has been serving meals to the hungry each month for many years and a bereavement support group is offered for those in mourning. Laroga, parochial vicar Father Apolinario ‘’Poli’’ Ty and parish volunteers each week visit the hospital, Hilo nursing homes and those who are home-bound to provide communion and share scripture readings.

“We are hoping for another 100 years,” Laroga said with a laugh.

“We won’t be here, father, but at least our descendants will be here,” Usagawa replied.

“The faith will grow. That is our hope, the faith, the community will grow,” Laroga continued. “It’s not only the church as a structure, but the faith.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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