Catherine Hughes and Albert Souza are two longtime St. Patrick Church parishioners who have warm memories of the church.

75 Years of

Parishioners celebrate
St. Patrick Church’s steady
evolution in the Kaimuki

Albert Souza has been an usher at St. Patrick Church from the time it was built in 1929, and the wiry 95-year-old still joins in passing the collection baskets when there's a need.

"I love this church," said Souza, who served as the church yardman for 20 years after retiring from Lewers and Cooke. He joined his late wife, Alvina, in arranging fresh altar clothes and flowers as a weekly service.

Catherine Hughes, 75, remembers the 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, distracted by the noise of what seemed to be military maneuvers and men in the congregation leaving early after someone tapped them on the shoulder.

"We didn't know it was war until we got home after Mass," she said.

Winona Gonsalves will be honored during Catholic School Week next week for her 50 years as a teacher at St. Patrick School. An alumna of the school, the 66-year-old mathematics teacher won the National Catholic Education Association's Distinguished Graduate Award. She doesn't plan to retire any time soon.

The three parishioners have a lot of company reminiscing about the "good old days" as the Kaimuki Catholic parish begins its 75th-anniversary celebration. Past and present members will gather at a Feb. 8 luau luncheon at the Japanese Cultural Center.

"Kaimuki grew up around this church," said Hughes. The building and bell tower of classic Romanesque architecture, filled with stained-glass windows depicting biblical stories, has been a landmark from the time it was dedicated in February 1929. It was built by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary to serve the growing population in East Honolulu.

One of the stories being shared by old-timers answers the question, How did a church built by a Belgian-French religious order for what was a largely Portuguese congregation at the time get named for an Irish saint? It seems the Rev. Patrick St. Leger, the chaplain at neighboring Sacred Hearts Academy, made the very personal choice when plans were first being made. He is counted as first pastor, but he left Hawaii because of illness before the new building actually opened.

Winona Gonsalves will be honored next week during Catholic School Week for her 50 years as a St. Patrick School teacher.

An interview with Souza and Hughes was a rehearsal of "remembers":

>> In the old wooden wardrobe-style confessionals, where you knelt behind a screen to tell your sins to the priest, "the cobwebs would come down on you," said Hughes.

>> There were 200 students when the parish school opened in 1930. Souza's children attended classes in the wooden schoolhouse before it burned down in 1949. The "new" cement block school has 536 students and 25 teachers in 18 classrooms.

>> The adjacent monastery, built in a Spanish mission style of architecture, was originally home to working priests and brothers. It now serves as a care facility for retired clergy. Among the residents is Brother Patrick Hughes, whose father was one of the church builders.

>> Three ornately carved wooden altars were removed when the church was reconfigured to meet the new worship format laid down by the Second Vatican Council. That was 20 years ago, and Souza still waxes indignant that the termite-ridden structures were trashed.

"The Holy Name Society refused to do it," he said. He salvaged a carved head of Christ from one frontispiece, and it is now displayed as a plaque in the church sacristy.

The contemporary Mass was instituted by the current pastor, the Rev. Lane Akiona, who is faced with honoring history but keeping the parish headed for the future. He put the word out that old life-size angel figures, which were saved from the trash bin and whisked away into homes, would be welcomed back, at least for a nostalgic anniversary visit.

"St. Patrick has the same potential it had in the past," Akiona said, but the configuration of the congregation has changed from the days when it was neighborhood-based.

"There's a tremendous increase in the religious education program," he said, with 180 enrolled in weekend classes for children attending public schools.

The forward focus for the St. Patrick community is a capital campaign launched last year to expand the school, renovate the church and upgrade the monastery into a long-term care facility for retired clergy.

Fund-raising projects, pledges and grants have netted $1.6 million of the $2.9 million goal for Phase 1, said Randy Lee, a former community organizer with Liliuokalani Children's Center who was hired recently as development director. That will go toward an early-learning center with two pre-kindergarten classes and an upgrading of the grounds into more playground and parking space.

The 10-year plan includes construction of a $4 million resource center and $2.5 million in renovations. There are big grant prospects, including one from the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, Lee said.

But parishioners know that the one thing that links the past and the future in a church community is the grass-roots fund raising and ticket sales. Coming up this year is an April banquet for the school's 75th anniversary and a November golf tournament, a mail campaign and God knows how many barbecue chicken and baked-goods sales.

But first, tickets for the Feb. 8 luau are $35 and may be reserved by calling the office, 732-5565.

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