By Maria Sullivan
The high winds of Holy Week took a toll on St. Joseph Church in Kamalo, on Molokai, tearing a gaping hole in its fragile steeple and blowing the cross off. The damage to this historic church, one of several St. Damien built, is the second calamity to strike the island’s St. Damien Parish in recent months. On Feb. 11, the parish’s main church in Kaunakakai, St. Sophia, was destroyed in a fire.
Sacred Hearts Sister Jessie Kai called Sacred Hearts Father Clyde Guerreiro, pastor of St. Damien, early on Holy Thursday, April 1, to tell him that someone reported the steeple cross missing. The cross had adorned the church since Father Damien built it in 1876.
“I immediately went out to check on it and found the cross lying directly at Father Damien’s feet,” said Father Guerreiro, referring to the life-sized statue of Father Damien standing in the graveyard next to the church.
Tiny St. Joseph is significant among the three Molokai churches built by Father Damien because it remains in the most original condition. The 40-seat chapel is a regular stop for pilgrims. It was one of the places Bishop Silva and 12 mainland bishops visited while accompanying St. Damien’s relic on an island tour last October following his canonization.
Father Guerreiro had already started to raise money this past fall and winter to repair, re-roof and repaint St. Joseph.
“The church has not been re-roofed since the late 1960s,” he said. “Last year I began a letter-writing campaign to 563 visitors to raise funds to repair St. Joseph Church.”
The pastor’s effort led to one benefactor agreeing to re-roof the church, plus $6,000 donated for window restoration, painting and fumigation. However, the steeple damage has raised the price beyond what the parish has available.
“The repair projects are critical to the preservation of this Damien church,” Father Guerreiro said, “because now when it rains, it rains inside the church.”
Father Guerreiro says the church had so far survived on “borrowed time,” but the time is now up.
The new damage has added yet another strain to the 300-plus family parish which has two other churches and stretches across topside Molokai. Other priorities, including building St. Sophia’s replacement, have challenged the parish’s limited budget.
With the island’s unemployment chronically in the double digits, the parish has relied on donations from friends and supporters throughout Hawaii and the mainland.
But Father Guerreiro is optimistic.
“When I saw the cross lying at Father Damien’s feet I thought, ‘Well, I’m a Sacred Hearts priest and my challenges are minor, compared to those that faced my predecessor Father Damien.’ However, I am at the point that I need to ‘Let go, and let God,’ and trust that our benefactors will come forward to help us. We need to preserve this Damien Church before it disappears.”
How you can help
Send your check payable to “St Damien Parish — St. Joseph Church Fund” to: Father Clyde Guerreiro, SS.CC., St. Damien Parish — St. Joseph Church Fund, P.O. Box 1948, Kaunakakai, HI 96748.
For more information contact St. Damien parishioner, Maria Sullivan at email@example.com, or (808) 553-5181.