Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, January 23, 1998

Monsignor Kekumano is now in heaven

ON Sunday morning, at tranquil St. Francis Hospice in Nuuanu, Monsignor Charles Kekumano, 78, was snoring loudly in his bed. Every so often, he would stop sawing wood - and break into the delightfully mischievous grin that made him so famous.

But Monsignor wouldn't awaken, not even when a visitor from the afternoon newspaper came to pay her respects and quietly spoke his name. Sedatives and pain medication, administered to ease his suffering from cancer, had eased him into unconsciousness.

Lying there, he looked too thin and frail, with horrendous black circles ringing his closed eyes. Monsignor was far from his usual jaunty self.

In the past, he would traipse into the Star-Bulletin newsroom, nodding at writers he knew, before ending up at the editorial offices. Usually, he was holding a manila folder with two or three typewritten sheets.

Monsignor would hand over the folder and say, "I thought you might be interested in this."

He was always right. For example, in two separate opinion columns, the first Catholic priest of Hawaiian ancestry wrote about the significance of local customs and sayings, like the real meaning of the words "kapulu" and "aloha."

Learning from Monsignor was like getting a scolding from your favorite uncle:

"When I was a child, kapulu was a dreaded word. If it was used about you, you hoped they didn't really mean it. Kapulu means untidy, slovenly, unkempt ... The reason I raise this question of carelessness is because we are approaching a new century with considerable disregard for the niceties of life." - June 29, 1996, View Point.

"Unfortunately in recent years, the word aloha has been abused. Its exaggerated drawing out into 'a-lowww-ha!' is a caricature and is demeaning. What is supposed to be an expression of affection becomes a travesty." - Jan. 1, 1997, View Point.

But Monsignor's most famous and favorite essay of all was the "Broken Trust" piece that ran in last year's Aug. 9 Star-Bulletin. Co-authored by four other exemplary local individuals, the commentary profoundly changed the way that the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate was perceived and, no doubt, how it will be run in the future.

Even after he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and started the painful radiation treatments to kill it, Monsignor would try to make as many meetings as possible with his "Broken Trust" co-authors. He'd dutifully show up at the state Attorney General's Office when asked, and deemed her to be "one smart wahine."

In late December, he was summoned to the Star-Bulletin to be photographed as one of the "10 Who Made A Difference" feature that ran on Jan. 1. This time, Monsignor shuffled into the newsroom with the help of a cane, slowed by obvious pain and exhaustion.

EARLY Monday morning, Gladys Brandt - Monsignor's good friend and "Broken Trust" co-author - knew his time on Earth was almost pau. She was in attendance as his respiration labored, and the hospice nurses scurried in and out of his room.

She, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Keala, and Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Rosehill, gathered around him and reminded Monsignor that he would soon be with God.

Then, at 9:10 a.m., Monsignor Charles Kekumano stopped breathing, and his eyes opened wide.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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