Father Christopher Keahi is the new pastor at St. Michael's Church, which is celebrating its150th anniversary this year.

Little church
sprouts in 150 years

St. Michael’s Church in Waialua
continues its mission
to draw believers of all ages

St. Michael's Church sprouted 150 years ago in Waialua like the proverbial mustard seed that grew into a mighty tree.

A laywoman built the tiny congregation of Hawaiian natives on the banks of Paukauila Stream -- far from Honolulu, from where the first Catholic priests in Hawaii were expelled in 1831.

When religious freedom returned to the islands in 1839, the laywoman brought in the Rev. Joseph Desvault to lead the parishioners. Ninety-seven Hawaiians were baptized.

They built a small thatched-roof chapel in 1840, then a new stone church, dedicated in 1853, that served the community for nearly 60 years near Kiikii Stream in Waialua.

Today the church on Goodale Avenue -- rebuilt in 1923 to be closer to Waialua sugar plantation's Puuiki main camp -- has 300-400 members. It includes a full-fledged eight-grade school, completed in 1949.

The church celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

To serve the Sunset Beach area, St. Michael's built the Sts. Peter and Paul mission church in 1953 at Waimea Bay, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Both churches celebrated their respective anniversaries Sept. 28, with Bishop Francis DiLorenzo presiding.

The Rev. Christopher Keahi, formerly of the Holy Cross Church in Kalaheo, Kauai, took over as pastor to both St. Michael's and Sts. Peter and Paul in June. The Rev. Felix Vandebroek, formerly with St. Raphael in Koloa, Kauai, started as vicar of the Waimea Bay mission church also in June.

Keahi said his personal aspiration is "to bring the people together; to bring back those who have not been coming to church, make them feel welcome ... try our best to create a faith community," and get more parishioners involved in strengthening the church.

Even though some 500 people attend both churches' Sunday services, Keahi thinks "the numbers are small."

He doesn't plan to make any major changes before he's completed his first year, but he has already initiated Bible studies, attended by about 30 people, who have many questions about the Catholic faith. In this age of prevalent worldwide terrorism, he said, people are seeking answers to age-old questions about the meaning of their lives and what God has in the way of influence.

Keahi said he is also focusing on building social and educational activities on the grammar school level so that by the time the kids are teenagers, "they will see the church as part of their lives, not just (something to do) on Sundays."

On Kauai, his church started using more contemporary methods of drawing the youth to church, including more modern music -- "we had guitars and trumpets," Keahi said.

"But we would have to be very sensitive to existing parishioners," who favor more traditional ways of worshipping, he said.

Perhaps, the older parishioners could go to an earlier service, and the younger generation could attend the second service with its more contemporary music and worship program, Keahi added.

"We have such a rich history that we should be very proud of and strive to build on that."

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