Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, February 9, 2002

Maryknoll archivist Sister Dolores Rosso found a sense of family among Maryknoll sisters when she arrived in 1949.

School marks milestone
in serving others

Maryknoll celebrates 75 years
of education and community care

By Mary Adamski

On any given school day at Maryknoll High School, buses arrive after classes to carry teams of athletes to practice or compete at rented and borrowed premises.

There's no playing field or gymnasium at the 570-student Makiki campus, but that doesn't stop its 111 athletic teams from archery to football, not to mention scholars in speech, mathematics and other academic contests.

"Don't worry about what you don't have, figure out what to do with what you have," is a theme which harks back to the school's founders from its namesake religious order, said Development Director and alumna Yvonne Morris.

That's why Maryknoll School, which includes an 830-student elementary school, is celebrating its 75th anniversary in increments next week. Alumna Nina Keali'iwahamana Rapozo will lead the grade school in song at an 8 a.m. Monday ceremony in its Dole Street schoolyard. Only grades 8-12 will fit in the 10 a.m. Tuesday Founders' Day Mass at St. Augustine's Church in Waikiki, which was picked because of its size.

The 10 nuns who came to Hawaii in 1927 were part of a new missionary order, and they implanted "the mission charism of ours" on the school and its future, said Sister Dolores Rosso. Now the regional archivist, the Philadelphia native taught in the school from 1949 to 1971.

She said the Maryknollers were invited by Hawaii's Bishop Stephen Alencastre because they were missionaries with experience in "going to other cultures to insert yourself as best you can." Other Catholic religious communities had established girls' or boys' private schools here, but he wanted "a parochial school, open to poorer people." The New York-based order was new and American, and "that made it possible to have a coed school, very unusual for Catholic schools at that time. It also was more open to each of us using our own talents," and that was reflected in the orchestra, drama and chorale groups that were part of the new school from the beginning.

Those sisters "brought our own family spirit to the school," said Rosso, who found their practice of "home visiting" families of students still in use when she arrived.

The school's motto, "Noblesse Oblige," dates back to that founding generation, and it is at the root of the service orientation that is part of Maryknoll education. The expression was from a poem loved by the Maryknoll sisters' founder Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, which read "As one candle lights another, nor grows less; so nobleness enkindles nobleness."

"It means that whatever the gift and talent that you have, you share it with other people," said the retired educator. "If much is given to you, much is expected of you."

In that spirit, she said, long before other schools added community service as a component in a well-rounded education, it was expected of Maryknoll students. "Those are the values and undercurrents that continue. We make our students know there are other places in the world."

The first school was attached to Sacred Heart Church on Wilder Avenue, which was administered by Maryknoll priests until five years ago. That's when Michael Baker became the first layman president of the schools where half the students are not Catholic.

The first Maryknollers were joined by dozens of others who eventually ran nine grade schools and three high schools in the state. That all changed in the 1960s after the Second Vatican Council made changes in the Catholic Church.

"Women religious evaluated their actions, and we decided our direction was no longer in institutional work, but to serve where the need was, such as efforts for the poor," Rosso said. It wasn't as traumatic for Maryknoll members as it might have been. "We were already involved in our communities. Nuns went into social work, into outreach to the poor, women empowerment issues, concerns like domestic violence."

"A current reflection of our charism is seen in justice and peace-building." The late Sister Anna McAnany, who became a Waianae community activist, is a good example. Among her efforts was collaboration in creating a "peace curriculum" used in public schools.

There are now 32 Maryknoll sisters in the Central Pacific Region, which includes Samoa and Hawaii. Two are employed at the high school. Rosso, who served several years in New York as archivist for the international missionary order, is one of several who have technically reached retirement age.

"But none of us are sitting home knitting," she said.

The high school campus, acquired before World War II, once extended to Shriners Hospital. It was forced to shrink when the state condemned land for the freeway in the 1950s. Land was acquired on Alexander Street adjacent to the original site, and administrative offices were opened last year in a refurbished apartment building, freeing school space for classroom use.

Future plans call for construction of a "community center" complex of a gym, meeting space and cafeteria on property now holding apartment buildings.

The school's 6,500 graduates can expect to hear from their alma mater when their community service is needed on the capital campaign. Maybe by the 100th anniversary, there will be seating space for everyone.

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