Mary Adamski View from
the Pew

Mary Adamski

At St. Patrick Church, children crowned a statue of Mary with flowers and draped leis in a ceremony that included Kaipo Thornton, left, and Welena Kamana, portraying the king and queen; and Dallas Smith and Kaiulani O'Brien, the second-grade prince and princess.

St. Patrick’s kids celebrate
a sentimental heritage

"It's the nostalgia," said retiree Ruth Dawson on Tuesday at the uniquely Catholic version of May Day. "Most of us have a special place in our hearts for our lady."

She was among the few adults seated like islands in a eddying stream of 560 uniformed school kids, joining with the young, piping voices in the familiar refrain "Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing. Ave, ave, ave, Maria."

It was the May crowning program of St. Patrick School in Kaimuki. From the rosary recitation as they marched into the pews to the solemn draping of leis on a statue of Mary, it was familiar, predictable, nostalgic, sentimental, just the way it's supposed to be.

Anyone who ever attended a Catholic school anywhere on the globe has experienced a celebration that singled out the mother of Jesus for special attention. It's usually in May, a month earmarked by the Catholic Church for Marian awareness. There was politically correct pause in some liberal congregations after the mid-1960s Second Vatican Council instigated modernization that relocated statues to the back of the church. But with Pope John Paul II at the helm, avid in sharing his devotion to Mary and the rosary -- a repetitive prayer that is the Catholic version of a mantra -- the tradition is popular again.

Using a statue to focus the mind for prayer and contemplation is a centuries-old practice. Catholics don't own the idea of this sort of ritual. (However, a bunch of them ARE doing it again today at the Father Damien statue at the state Capitol.) Buddhists and Hindus do it. Protestants disavowed it after the 16th-century Reformation.

At St. Patrick Church, the statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is adorned with flowers and leis.

There are some who think those who use this sort of visual aid aren't able to distinguish between the stone or plaster model and long-dead object of their veneration who is being tapped as a conduit to God. Do some people pray to statues? It's not easy to answer. Those who don't just tend to avert their eyes when passing devotees who get touchy-feely with an image at the back of the church.

There were moments of unplanned drama Tuesday, the brief threat of a teetering statue, when lei drapers were not quite tall enough to accomplish their mission. But eighth-grader and Hawaiian chanter Jesse Aiwohi doubled as designated lei and gift arranger.

It was the second outing before the cameras of parents and grandparents for the May Day Court.

Queen Welena Kamana and King Kaipo Thornton, both eighth-graders, had also led the color-coded array of princes and princesses -- representing not only grades K through 7, but also the eight major islands -- at a traditional Lei Day program of hula and Hawaiian music on May 2.

Typical of a Catholic school, it's the students' good conduct that earns them May Day alii status, not a popularity election by their peers. Teachers consult with students in the selection process, but they "are not looking at finding a nice-looking couple," said teacher Winona Gonsalves. "They don't have to be smart; it's more about general personality traits." And social justice prevails: No one gets to repeat the role in a subsequent year.

Lloyd Richard III and Kaelynn Savoy, both first-graders, give Jesse Aiwohi leis that will be placed on a statue of Mary, mother of Jesus, at St. Patrick Church.

Typical of the audience were the grandparents of second-grader Dallas Smith, the prince of Lanai. "Our devotion to the Blessed Mother goes back a long ways," said Doll Ayres. She and husband Joe are Catholic school graduates, the veterans of many, many May crownings. "We have a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our yard in Kaimuki," she said. "I never go anywhere without my rosary, especially when we travel."

It was also nostalgic for Donelle and Wayne Olivieri, bearing cameras to record son Keoni, the prince of Oahu, and daughter Asia, one of the readers of scriptures and prayers. The senior Olivieris met while attending St. Patrick School. The pageantry has gotten better, Donelle said, thanks to the addition of Hawaiiana class. "We pray in our home. The kids know the rosary," she said.

It was sentimental and nostalgic, too, for a St. Patrick School graduate from another place. Then, the few first spring flowers in a vase at the foot of the statue seemed brilliant after a Midwestern winter. The memory doesn't really pale, even though everything about the Hawaii May crowning was more vivid -- bright holokus and sashes, orchid and ilima leis, the fabulous shades of island faces. It was a Mother's Day nostalgia for someone whose mother is long gone, and an understanding of why so many millions down through the ages have chosen to "borrow" Jesus' mom.

We didn't have to look at the song sheets; the old songs are imprinted in the brain: "Gentle Mother, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom, teach us love."

Religion Calendar

Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
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