Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu

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Pope Pius XI blesses Bishop Stephen Alencastre as fifth Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands in a Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace window. He was the only bishop who grew up in Hawaii.
Pope Pius XI blesses Bishop Stephen Alencastre as fifth Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands in a Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace window. He was the only bishop who grew up in Hawaii.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu is an ecclesiastical territory or particular church of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The diocese is comprised of the entire state of Hawaii and the unincorporated Hawaiian Islands. The diocese is suffragan to the Metropolitan Province of San Francisco which includes the dioceses of Las Vegas, Oakland, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton. The patrons of the Diocese of Honolulu are the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Peace, and Blessed Damien of Molokai.

The Diocese of Honolulu is led by the prelature of the Bishop of Honolulu in the City of Honolulu. He concurrently serves as pastor of the motherchurch, Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. With his presbyterium, the bishop ministers in eleven languages: Chinese, English, Hawaiian, Ilokano, Japanese, Korean, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog, Tongan and Vietnamese.

Originally a prefecture of the Apostolic Vicariate of Oceania, the Vatican canonically erected from its territories the Apostolic Vicariate of the Sandwich Islands. Blessed Pope Pius IX changed its name in 1848 becoming the Apostolic Vicariate of the Hawaiian Islands. Venerable Pope Pius XII elevated the apostolic vicariate to the dignity of a diocese on January 25, 1941, as it remains today.



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Peter Coudrin founded the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary which brought the Roman Catholic Church to Hawaii.

The first Roman Catholic mission to the Kingdom of Hawaii was established upon the arrival of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a religious order called the Picpus Fathers, founded by Peter Coudrin during the French Revolution.

The first Picpus Fathers departed from Bordeaux aboard the La Comète on November 21, 1826 and stopped in Valparaíso in Chile on February 8, 1827. The Picpus Fathers resumed their trip on February 25. They entered port at Honolulu Harbor on July 7. Having originally been refused entry by Protestant advisors to the king, the Picpus Fathers did not disembark from their ship until July 9. Among the first Picpus Fathers were Abraham Armand and Alexis Bachelot of France, as well as Patrick Short of the United Kingdom. They were joined by six lay brothers.

Fathers Armand, Bachelot and Short concelebrated the first Mass in the Hawaiian Islands on Bastille Day, July 14, 1827, in honor of their religious order's French heritage. They performed the first baptism on November 30.

The Picpus Fathers were quick to plunge into the Hawaiian society. They learned the local language, went into the Native Hawaiian community and began preaching to them. They distributed Hawaiian language Bibles and taught the lessons of Jesus from the gospels. Hundreds of Native Hawaiians developed a devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary as taught by their kindly Catholic missionaries and chose to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Among the first converts were the royal governors of Oahu, Boki and Kuini Liliha. They would both become pivotal members of the Catholic underground.


Christian missionaries were influential in shaping the modern society of the kingdom after the deaths of Kamehameha and Kamehameha II. The missionaries, largely Congregationalists from New England, baptized the queen regent Kaahumanu and persuaded her to create religious policy favoring the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii. Kamehameha III agreed and enacted its expulsion from the kingdom. Fathers Bachelot and Short were forcibly boarded onto the brig Waverly by the chiefs loyal to Kaahumanu and they left Honolulu Harbor on December 24, 1831. They landed off the coast of California and worked in the California Missions near present-day City of Los Angeles.

Native Hawaiian converts of the Roman Catholic Church claimed to have been imprisoned, beaten and tortured after the physical expulsion of their missionary priests. The persecution was prescribed, according to the Bishop Museum, by the Protestant ministers claiming that such treatment was ordained by God. Commodore John Downes of the United States Navy frigate USS Potomac expressed American disappointment of the king's decision resulting in the brief end of physical harm for the converts.

In 1835, the apostolic vicar and prefect working from Valparaíso dispatched Columba Murphy, a religious brother from Ireland affiliated with the Picpus Fathers, to evaluate the situation in the Hawaiian Islands. While other Picpus Fathers were denied entry into the kingdom, the king permitted Murphy to disembark from his ship due to his investigative role and the fact that Murphy, a mere brother, could not minister the sacraments. On September 30, 1836, Arsenius Walsh, a Picpus Father, arrived in Honolulu to continue Murphy's work. Murphy had left earlier to report back to his superiors. The royal government refused Walsh's entry. However, the captain of the French Navy ship La Bonite persuaded the king to allow Walsh to stay. The royal government agreed to permit the Picpus Fathers to work freely in the Hawaiian Islands as long as they only attended to foreign Roman Catholics, not Native Hawaiians.

On April 17, 1837, Fathers Bachelot and Short returned to Honolulu thinking the deal made with Father Walsh would apply to them. On April 30, the royal government forced them back onto their ship. The American and British Consuls compelled the king to allow Bachelot and Short to disembark. As a result, the captains of British Navy and French Navy vessels escorted Bachelot and Short into Honolulu. Short would leave the Hawaiian Islands again in October.

France, which claimed to be a defender of the Roman Catholic Church, dispatched the French Navy frigate Artemise which sailed into Honolulu Harbor on July 10, 1839. Captain Cyrille-Pierre-Théodore Laplace was ordered by his government to:

Destroy the malevolent impression which you find established to the detriment of the French name; to rectify the erroneous opinion which has been created as to the power of France; and to make it well understood that it would be to the advantage of the chiefs of those islands of the Ocean to conduct themselves in such a manner as not to incur the wrath of France. You will exact, if necessary with all the force that is yours to use, complete reparation for the wrongs which have been committed, and you will not quit those places until you have left in all minds a solid and lasting impression.

Fearing an assault on his kingdom for the religious persecution, Kamehameha III issued the Edict of Toleration on June 17, 1839. A major disappointment for the Protestant ministers, Roman Catholics became free to worship in the kingdom with the proclamation:

That the Catholic worship be declared free, throughout all the dominions subject to the king of the Sandwich Islands; the members of this religious faith shall enjoy in them the privileges granted to Protestants.

As an act of reconciliation, Kamehameha III donated land to the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii for the construction of their first permanent church.


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Bishop Etienne Jerome Rouchouze was the Apostolic Vicar of Oriental Oceania which included the Hawaiian Islands. His crest adorns the cathedral.

The Laplace incident and the Edict of Toleration inspired Etienne Jerome Rouchouze, the Apostolic Vicar of Oriental Oceania, to move to Honolulu from Valparaíso. The bishop disembarked from his ship at Honolulu Harbor in the company of three Picpus Fathers. One of them was the earlier exiled Louis Désiré Maigret. Their arrival officially signified the Roman Catholic victory over persecution in the Hawaiian Islands and the beginning of a permanent Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii.

The first permanent church broke ground on the memorial feast of Our Lady of Peace on July 9, 1840. Our Lady of Peace had been the patroness of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary since the turmoil of the French Revolution. Fathers Armand, Bachelot and Short had consecrated the Hawaiian Islands under the protection of Our Lady of Peace when they first arrived. During the groundbreaking Mass, 280 Native Hawaiian catechumens received baptism and confirmation. For the rest of the year, devotees harvested large blocks of coral off the southern coastline of Oahu to build what would become the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.

On the various neighbor islands, Bishop Rouchouze commissioned the construction of other permanent churches to serve as parish missions. They also started building makeshift schools to teach in the Roman Catholic traditions of academia. A printing press was brought into Honolulu for the production of Roman Catholic literature including missals and hymnals written in the Hawaiian language.

In January 1842, an excited Bishop Rouchouze, pleased with the success of his work, decided to sail back to the Paris home of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in order to recruit more Picpus Fathers and religious brothers to serve in the growing Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii. Tragically, Bishop Rouchouze was lost at sea during his voyage back to the Hawaiian Islands. His suffragan apostolic prefects took charge of the Apostolic Vicariate of Oriental Oceania while a search party was dispatched. Years later, the search was officially ended and Bishop Rouchouze was pronounced dead.


Through the period that began with the landing of Fathers Armand, Bachelot and Short to the proclamation of the Edict of Toleration and arrival of Bishop Rouchouze, the Hawaiian Islands were administered as a prefecture within the larger Apostolic Vicariate of Oriental Oceania. Created in 1833 by Pope Gregory XVI and governed from South America, its territories included the Marquesas and Tahiti. After the disappearance of Bishop Rouchouze, the three prefectures were elevated into independent apostolic vicariates. Each would be led by their own bishops.


The Apostolic Vicariate of the Sandwich Islands was established and on July 11, 1847, Blessed Pius IX appointed Louis Désiré Maigret to succeed Bishop Rouchouze. The new apostolic vicar was consecrated as the Titular Bishop of Arathia and quickly attended to the needs of the fledgling Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii. Eventually, the ecclesiastical territory received a name change for politcal correctness and became the Apostolic Vicariate of the Hawaiian Islands. It was Bishop Maigret that completed the construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. He also invited the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary to open proper Roman Catholic schools. The priests and religious brothers of the Society of Mary were invited to do the same. Bishop Maigret died on 11 June 1882 and was buried in a crypt below the sanctuary of the cathedral he built and loved.


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Bishop Herman Koeckemann was the second Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands. His crest and an image of Blessed Damien of Molokai adorn the cathedral.

Pope Leo XIII immediately elevated Bernard Hermann Koeckemann, a Picpus Father from Germany, as the second Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands. He was consecrated as the Titular Bishop of Olba. During his episcopacy, Bishop Koeckemann saw a wave of new Roman Catholics from the exponentially growing plantation laborer population in the Hawaiian Islands. The Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii embraced new parishioners from the Philippines, Poland, Portugal and Spain among others. There were so many devout Portuguese members that churches often had to include Portuguese language Masses.

Bishop Koeckemann also saw the rise of leprosy cases throughout the kingdom. He received Blessed Damien of Molokai and Blessed Mother Marianne Cope into the apostolic vicariate to serve the ailing lepers residing in an isolated colony on the island of Molokai. Both would have causes for canonization opened for them by their respective religious orders.

On February 22, 1892, Bishop Koeckemann died and was buried at the Honolulu Catholic Cemetery.


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Bishop Gulstan Francis Ropert was the third Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands. His crest adorns the cathedral.

It took several months before Pope Leo XIII appointed someone to succeed Bishop Koeckemann. On June 3, 1892, the pope chose a Picpus Father from France, Gulstan Francis Ropert to become the third Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands. He was consecrated as the Titular Bishop of Panopolis. It was during his reign that the Kingdom of Hawaii was embroiled in revolution. American businessmen plotted to overthrow the peacably reigning Queen of Hawaii. United States Marines marched towards Iolani Palace, a neighbor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, and arrested Liliuokalani. A provisional government was proclaimed before a republic was established. Bishop Ropert received pleas by his Native Hawaiian followers to defend Liliuokalani, being tried by a military court for treason against the newly created government. Unfortunately, there wasn't much Bishop Ropert could do. He would become the sole bishop of an new Republic of Hawaii.

Bishop Ropert also was responsible for the spiritual needs of local families whose children were sent overseas to fight in the Spanish-American War. He also consoled Filipinos whose families were lost in the Philippine-American War. Later in his reign, the Hawaiian Islands became a territory of the United States becoming the first bishop of the Territory of Hawaii. Bishop Ropert died on January 4, 1903 and was buried in Honolulu Catholic Cemetery.


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Bishop Gulstan Libert Hubert John Louis Boeynaems was the fourth Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands and led during World War I. His crest adorns the cathedral.

Again it would take several months before Pope Leo XIII appointed someone to succeed the episcopacy in the Hawaiian Islands. On April 8, 1903, the pope appointed a Picpus Father from Antwerp in Belgium, Libert Hubert John Louis Boeynaems to become the fourth Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands. He was consecrated Titular Bishop of Zeugma. During his reign, Bishop Boeynaems had to send off many of his followers to fight in Europe during World War I. He also oversaw the increasing militarization of the Hawaiian Islands. The entire coastline of the island of Oahu was fortified and several United States military bases were established, including: Fort Shafter, Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks. With the absence of an established military ordinariate in the United States, Bishop Boeynaems began to pastor the thousands of Roman Catholic service members. After a period of illness, Bishop Boeynaems died on May 13, 1926 and was buried in Honolulu Catholic Cemetery.


When Bishop Boeynaems became ill, Pope Pius XI elevated the first person to have grown up in the Hawaiian Islands to become an apostolic vicar. The pope appointed Stephen Peter Alencastre, a Picpus Father born in Portugal but lived on the various islands since infancy, as coadjutor apostolic vicar to assist Bishop Boeynaems, suffering in hospital. He was consecrated Titular Bishop of Arabissus. When Bishop Boeynaems died, Bishop Alencastre came into succession as the fifth Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands. Bishop Alencastre knew that the apostolic vicariate was growing at such a fast pace that it wouldn't be long until the pope would decide to elevate the apostolic vicariate to a full diocese. Seeing a need for new locally trained priests, he established Saint Stephen's Seminary. He named it after his personal patron saint. Bishop Alencastre also oversaw the renovation of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, modernizing it in time for the centennial celebration of the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii. Bishop Alencastre died aboard a ship en route from Los Angeles on November 9, 1940.


Bishop Alencastre's premonition that the apostolic vicariate would soon cease was fulfilled earlier than expected. Upon Bishop Alencastre's death, Blessed Pius XII decided that the Hawaiian Islands no longer needed a missionary church. Rather, its flourishing Roman Catholic community was mature enough to be administered as a fully independent body of its own. The pope canonically erected the new Diocese of Honolulu on January 25, 1941.


An iron cross marks the burial site of the bishops.
An iron cross marks the burial site of the bishops.

After several months of consideration, the Pope looked outside of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary to succeed the last apostolic vicar. He would assume the new title of Bishop of Honolulu. Pope Pius XII turned to a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. James Joseph Sweeney was appointed first Bishop of Honolulu on May 20 and ordained to the episcopacy on July 25.

Bishop Sweeney's first few months in episcopacy happened in the advent of the most tragic event to happen to the Hawaiian Islands. On December 7, Japanese imperial forces bombed Pearl Harbor and scraped metropolitan Honolulu. Hundreds died, including civilians under Bishop Sweeney's spiritual care. Explosions were heard around the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. Throughout World War II, Bishop Sweeney comforted families who lost their children overseas.

Blessed John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962, Bishop Sweeney became one of a handful of prelates from the United States to attend the sessions. Inspired by the reforms agreed upon in Rome, Bishop Sweeney did not hesitate to enact major changes in liturgy and worship in the Diocese of Honolulu. One of his actions was to strip the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and renovate it in keeping with new standards. Soon all parishes under Bishop Sweeney's care offered Mass primarily in the English language and altars were built facing the congregation instead of the sanctuary wall. Slowly, other languages were incorporated into the Mass including the Hawaiian language.

Bishop Sweeney fell ill and could not perform his duties with full vigor. His request for an auxiliary bishop was granted. Years later, Bishop Sweeney died on June 19, 1968. He was buried in San Francisco, where he spent his early years as a priest.


Pope Paul VI quickly elevated John Joseph Scanlan, the first Auxiliary Bishop of Honolulu, to become the second Bishop of Honolulu on March 6, 1968. A diocesan priest from County Cork in Ireland, Bishop Scanlan oversaw the rapid development of the newly established state of Hawaii. He was also influential over the first two Governors of Hawaii: William F. Quinn and John A. Burns. Quinn and Burns, devout Roman Catholics, defended certain principles of their Christian denomination including its opposition to capital punishment. There was an incident however where Burns promised Bishop Scanlan to veto bills permitting abortion in Hawaii but did not do so. Nevertheless, Hawaii does not execute its most notorious criminals today. Scanlan was also remembered for his invitation of several religious orders to establish themselves in the Hawaiian Islands. Among such groups were the Society of Jesus, which now minister to the students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

In 1977, Bishop Scanlan consecrated an auxiliary bishop to assist him in his duties. His age was beginning to affect his work. Feeling the pressures of being 75 years old, Bishop Scanlan chose to retire on June 30, 1981. Bishop Scanlan died on January 31, 1997 in a California retirement home and was buried beside Bishop Maigret in a crypt under the sanctuary of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.


Pope John Paul II did not hesitate to elevate the second Auxiliary Bishop of Honolulu upon the retirement of Hawaii's Irish prelate. Joseph Anthony Ferrario, a former educator and diocesan priest, was appointed third Bishop of Honolulu on May 13, 1982. Bishop Ferrario's reign was considered the most controversial in diocesan history. He was charged for having led the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii to drift towards the political left. The Diocese of Honolulu was often referred to as one of the most liberal dioceses worldwide.

Bishop Ferrario, arguing that the Roman Catholic Church needed to be brought into the present times, began openly ministering to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of Hawaii. He agreed to serve on a gubernatorial commission to fight AIDS and HIV. He also supported legislation to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Many conservative groups claimed that the Diocese of Honolulu had seen a significant rise in openly gay priests who brought their sexual partners to public engagements. Concerned, many people called for Ferrario's resignation.

The closest any group got in forcing Bishop Ferrario from his office came with allegations that the former educator had fondled and enticed a young boy into having a sexual relationship. In 1989, Bishop Ferrario became the first bishop to be publicly accused of molesting a boy in the United States. The Hawaii State Judiciary ruled that the statute of limitations had passed and Bishop Ferrario could not be charged in a 1991 attempt to do so. Bishop Ferrario maintained his innocence for the rest of his life.

Bishop Ferrario's harshest critics were the ultra-conservative followers of the Society of Saint Pius X. Bishop Ferrario proceeded to excommunicate six of their members in 1991. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith overruled Bishop Ferrario's action.

Bishop Ferrario retired on October 12, 1993, citing poor health. He would later be plagued with severe heart problems. Even in retirement, Bishop Ferrario kept a vigorous schedule to raise money for Roman Catholic education in the Hawaiian Islands. He was remembered for his compassion for the poor children in the Diocese of Honolulu. Bishop Ferrario died on December 12, 2003 from heart failure. He was buried in Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery.


Before Bishop Ferrario retired, the Vatican had already chosen the Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton as his successor. Msgr. Francis DiLorenzo became Apostolic Administrator of Honolulu on the day Bishop Ferrario retired. On November 29, 1994, Pope John Paul II officially appointed Bishop DiLorenzo as the fourth Bishop of Honolulu.

Bishop DiLorenzo was chosen especially for his conservative stances on Roman Catholic doctrine. A major contrast to his liberal predecessor, Bishop DiLorenzo oversaw the largest overhaul of diocesan policy and structure since the Diocese of Honolulu was established. He brought the diocese back to the core beliefs on the issues of birth control, abortion, marriage and homosexuality. Apalled by the number of gay priests and accusations of child molestation at the hands of priests, Bishop DiLorenzo created the first zero-tolerance policy in the United States concerning such conduct. Years later, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops would use Bishop DiLorenzo's plan as the national model upon revelations of widespread sex abuse scandals.

Bishop DiLorenzo won approval from Pope John Paul II, who believed that Bishop Dilorenzo would be useful in other places in danger of slipping away from traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. With the announcement of the retirement of Walter Francis Sullivan of the Diocese of Richmond, the pope was quick to reassign Bishop Dilorenzo to the diocese in Virginia. Bishop DiLorenzo assumed leadership of the Diocese of Richmond upon installation on May 24, 2004.


With the departure of Bishop Dilorenzo, the diocesan college of consultors of Honolulu elected from their peers a temporary ordinary for the Diocese of Honolulu. On 28 May 2004, Thomas L. Gross took the title of Diocesan Administrator of Honolulu. He became the first diocesan priest to be elected to the prelature of the Diocese of Honolulu. He also served on the committee that chose the fifth Bishop of Honolulu.


Pope Benedict XVI appointed Clarence Richard Silva, the first native person in the episcopacy of the Hawaiian Islands to become the fifth Bishop of Honolulu on May 17, 2005. He also became the first person of Portuguese ancestry in the episcopate since the reign of Stephen Peter Alencastre. Formerly the Vicar General of the Diocese of Oakland, Silva will be ordained to the episcopate and installed as prelate bishop at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center Arena on July 21. It is expected to become the largest event held by the Diocese of Honolulu in its history.

The principal consecrator will be William Joseph Levada, Archbishop of San Francisco and newly-appointed Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The ordination and installation ceremony will be the last official ceremonial function as metropolitan bishop over the Province of San Francisco for Levada; other non-ceremonial functions would continue until his official departure from office. Also in attendance will be Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles and Gabriel Montalvo Higuera, Archbishop Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.


Vicariate I

The parishes of Vicariate I comprise the West Honolulu Vicariate.

Vicariate II

The parishes of Vicariate II comprise the East Honolulu Vicariate. The Manoa-Punahou Catholic Community, a clustered parish consisting of Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Wilder Avenue and Saint Pius X Catholic Church in Manoa Valley was canonically erected by the Bishop of Honolulu.

Vicariate III

The parishes of Vicariate III comprise the Windward Oahu Vicariate.

Vicariate IV

The parishes of Vicariate IV comprise the Leeward Oahu Vicariate.

Vicariate V

The parishes of Vicariate V comprise the Maui Vicariate.

Vicariate VI

The parishes of Vicariate VI comprise the West Hawaii Vicariate.

Vicariate VII

The parishes of Vicariate VII comprise the East Hawaii Vicariate.

Vicariate VIII

The parishes of Vicariate VIII comprise the Kauai Vicariate.

See also



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