St. Raphael's Church, Koloa, Kauai 

Visited 12 August 2005

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We stumbled upon this church in South Kauai in the old Koloa, a town historic for being the site of the first sugar plantation in Hawaii (1835).   Sugar drastically changed the character of the islands both agriculturally and ethnically as planters brought in Japanese, Chinese, and Filipinos to staff the plantations.  (Today, those of Asian descent make up 58% of the population of the Islands.) 

A very short religious history of Christian Hawaii


The second king of the united Hawaiian Islands started his reign in 1819 by abolishing the religion of his ancestors without any real replacement.  New England Congregationalists arrived shortly thereafter to fill the vacuum in 1820. 

The first Catholic missionaries came to the Islands in 1827 and Honolulu had the first chapel in 1828.  Being second to arrive was no fun: Catholics were given the choice of exile or imprisonment in 1831.  Catholics received religious freedom in 1839 when France threatened to destroy Honolulu.  Defenders of the Faith!

Two years later, a leader of the Catholic "underground," Frenchman Arsenius Robert Walsh said the first mass at St. Raphael's in 1841, making this the oldest Catholic Church in Kauai.  Above is what we think is the old church built in 1856 and renovated in 19361.  We'd suppose the demand for a church came from the Filipino sugar cane workers. By the end of the century, the population was overwhelmingly Japanese and Chinese who presumably would have little use for Catholic worship space.

Below is a photo of the old rectory standing among the pulmerias.  Apparently the priests have better places to live.

The church was open to the public but the grounds were devoid of people on this Friday morning in August.

The inside of the smaller church is at left.  We found the sign at below to capture the true Hawaiian spirit:

This appears to be a smaller chapel (once the old church)  but still in use, perhaps for daily mass.  A much larger church nearby handles fairly large weekend masses despite Koloa having fewer than a 1000 households. Catholics today make up 24% of the Hawaiian population.  (They also make up 90% of the French but all of those that go to church in that country might fit inside this church were it in Paris.)

The town of Koloa now makes its money on tourists, not sugar.  

For an index of all of our Hawaii pictures, click here
Created on 9 April 2007; revised 3 November 2008

Notes: [1] A trivia question -- when was the famous Garden City, MI, St. Raphael's founded?  Answer, 4 years before the Hawaiian St. Raphael's was being rehabbed: 1932

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