In the 1890 Directory for Hawaii (big island, not state) my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather are listed as teaching at the Catholic school in Waiohinu. It was listed as Sacred Heart.
Upon researching I discover that Sacred Heart is actually in Na’alehu, which makes sense as it is less than a mile away. I wrote to the priest there and received no reply. So I called the diocese in Honolulu and was put in touch with another priest who had no knowledge of any school or church in Waiohinu.
Upon arriving in Waiohinu, we went the next morning to Sacred Heart in Na’alehu and spoke with the secretary. I explained that the information I had said my relatives lived and belonged to Sacred Heart in 1890. She explained that the current church in Na’alehu was built in 1935 having been in Waiohinu before that. She told me the place it had been, next to the Shirakawa motel right on what is now Hwy 11. The records, she said, were at Holy Rosary Church in Pahala.
On to Pahala, and again, no one is there so we walked through the cemetery where we find the grave of a great uncle, Manuel Silva and his wife. We finally found someone at the church and luckily she was the secretary and I explained my dilemma. Initially, she said we had to make an appointment, etc. but when I mentioned the HART family she became much more helpful. She called a lady in Hilo who was also doing research and for a few minutes I was very excited until I realized it was another HART family (Samuel HART). But by this time, she had records spread all over the table! I was able to find birth and marriage records on my family!
The most important find was on the front of the ledger it read “Catholic Mission at K’au” – NO ONE I HAD CONTACTED IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAD ANY KNOWLEDGE THAT THIS HAD EXISTED! She gave us directions to the site but warned us that the cemetery had been destroyed by a flood and abandoned. We waded through 4′ weeds about 1/2 mile from the road to find a few headstones but none for my great-great-grandfather. There was nothing of the church to be seen.
But, I also discovered from the lady in Hilo who is also doing research that there is another Catholic church on Kamaoa Road which is less than 2 miles from the old site of Sacred Heart and she has some photos and records from that church. There was no cemetery at the Kamaoa Road site, but there is a ruin of a very old church that some people thought might have been a very early church perhaps used by Father Damien but that was just conjecture at the time.
It is very, very sad that the cemetery was in such bad shape. Unfortunately, the records for my great-great grandfather’s burial were missing from the book. BUT at the Bishop Museum there is a taped interview with a man who knew of the mission and had some knowledge that the people who ran the Shirakawa motel at some point had some records. I was unable to confirm that.
I was also disappointed that the Catholic diocese has so little info and I would dearly love to find out who owns the property now. My grandmother had told me stories of when she was a child and they played in the cemetery, so at least I knew I was in the right place and that they must have lived very close to where I was.
Barbara McLean is still seeking out information on her Hawaiian ancestry. If you have information on the places listed above, or have questions about this article, please contact Barbara at: malcolmsmom @ verizon.net
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