Church to be torn down


POSTED: Saturday, October 31, 2009

A landmark church in Kailua-Kona that was severely shaken by the 2006 earthquake will be demolished next month to make way for a new $6 million church complex.

Parishioners of St. Michael the Archangel Church on Alii Drive will gather for a farewell service at 5:30 p.m. Monday in front of the lava rock and coral block church built in about 1850. The service will be followed by a community reception and “;talk story”; session in the large tent that has served as a sanctuary since 2007.

The Oct. 15, 2006, quake and powerful aftershock opened cracks in the structure and shook rocks loose, leading church members to hire a structural engineering firm. The California company, MKM & Associates, determined that the building was unsafe.

Dick Leander, parish planning committee chairman, said that, unlike nearby Hulihee Palace, “;which was built like the pyramids”; and survived the quakes, St. Michael's was built without a foundation. “;All that was left was a dry stack wall 28 feet high held together by plaster inside and outside.”; Previous earthquakes and flooding over the years had undermined its stability.

A capital campaign has raised about half the anticipated $6 million cost of construction and furnishing a new church.

“;It will be 18 to 24 months before we get a shovel in the ground,”; Leander said, citing the design and permit-seeking process.

Besides an 8,000-square-foot sanctuary at the 3-acre site, they plan a community center with administrative offices, a social services-outreach building and apartments upstairs for the pastor and visiting priests.

“;We will try to keep it looking like the old church to the best of our ability, bearing in mind we are in a flood plain with building safety specifications,”; Leander said. Stained-glass windows will be saved, as well as an 1850 church bell from France. It was renovated in the 1970s, so the building “;lost its historical nature,”; he said.

Archaeologist Bob Rechtman will attempt to locate and remove the remains of the Rev. Joachim Marechal, the first pastor, who oversaw construction of the church. According to records, he was buried under the altar in 1859.

“;There's a marker in the wall but no known grave site,”; Leander said.

About 1,500 families attend services at the church and three other mission churches in the area, he said.

The history of St. Michael's and the mission churches is chronicled in “;North Kona's Catholic Heritage ... Remembered,”; a 52-page book produced by the parish Heritage Committee. It is being sold to benefit the capital campaign.

Copies can be purchased for $20 at the church or ordered by sending a $22.50 check or money order to North Kona Catholic Community, 75-5769 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740. For information, call 326-7771 or visit stmichaelskona.org.