St. Damien Church gets a little help from its friends

Construction on the Saint Damien of Molokai Church in Kaunakakai proceeds swiftly. The parish anticipates Christmas Mass at the new church.

By Maria Sullivan

One hundred “Friends of Father Damien” gathered July 16 at the Oahu Koolau Golf Club in Kaneohe for an afternoon of Molokai-style hospitality and a construction update on St. Damien of Molokai Church. The reception was the parish’s annual mahalo to the non-parish donors who have contributed to the new church now being built in Kaunakakai.

The pastor, Sacred Hearts Father Clyde Guerreiro, narrated an upbeat slide show chronicling the parish’s journey from the fire that destroyed the old St. Sophia Church last year to the recent installation of the roof on the new church-in-progress.

Bishop Larry Silva plans to bless the completed church in early December. After years of celebrating Easter and Christmas liturgies at a local civic center, the Molokai parish is joyfully anticipating Christmas Mass in the new building.

Amid the buzz of happy talk, only one thing weighs on the mind of the pastor and his 300-family parish — the prospect of paying off the $1.4 million construction loan.

A long and expensive venture

Topside Molokai, which is composed of the entire island except for Kalaupapa peninsula, has needed a new church since the 1990s when an expanding congregation outgrew St. Sophia. Fund raising and planning began in 1995 under pastor Father James Orsini. Over the years, the estimated cost of the modest 250-seat church, located in Molokai’s main town, grew from $1 million to $3.4 million.

When fire destroyed the parish’s main church, St. Sophia, in February 2010, the parish had raised just over half the construction cost.

Bishop Silva directed that the construction of the new church proceed, guaranteeing payment to the contractor Nordic PCL. The parish has so far paid $2 million of the $3.4 million cost, and has agreed to reimburse the diocese the remaining $1.4 over the next 15 to 20 years.

The Friends of Father Damien is a group of about 100 non-parishioners who make regular contributions to the St. Damien Church Building Fund.

“I am most grateful for the Friends of Father Damien,” Father Guerreiro said. “The Friends’ support is critical to the parish’s ability to retire its debt. And we welcome with open arms all those who wish to join us. We definitely are looking for more Friends of Father Damien.”

Father Guerreiro said the idea for “Friends” goes back to the mid 1980s when a group of dedicated donors across the state raised more than $1 million for the restoration of Father Damien’s St. Philomena Church in Kalawao on the Kalaupapa peninsula. Today, St. Philomena is under the care of the U.S. National Park Service and stands as true gem among Hawaii’s historic churches.

“Similar to St. Philomena,” Father Guerreiro said, “the new church will serve as a primary venue where Father Damien’s story of compassionate service will be told on a daily basis.”

The walls are up, the roof is on, and in a few more months the basic building will be finished. The “no frills” structure will be adorned later with artwork and stained glass windows.

Pastor and parishioners are joyous with anticipation.

“After two decades of the many faithful sitting outside in the carport or on the church steps straining to hear the celebration of the Mass, the new St. Damien of Molokai Church will be as fine as any European cathedral!” said Father Guerreiro.

To join the Friends of Father Damien, contact coordinator Maria Sullivan, 553-5181 or, or contact the parish through http://www.damienchurch


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