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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Local boy makes good as bishop

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

Last night, St. Louis School added five more names to its list of illustrious graduates who have nothing to do with football besides watching it.

They are Kaho'olawe martyr George Helm, University of Hawai'i baseball coach Les Murakami, community and business leader Wally Miyahara, and inventor-engineer Alfred Yee.

The fifth name is one you probably never heard of, though he may be the most interesting of the lot: Stephen Alencastre, the first local boy to become a Catholic bishop in Our Honolulu.

The reason you don't know much about Alencastre is that he died in 1940. Ten thousand people marched in his funeral procession, from the Fort Street Cathedral to the Catholic Cemetery on King Street near Thomas Square.

What caught my eye in a story about Alencastre at this time was a paragraph about a group of merchant seamen who attended a 7 a.m. mass in memory of the bishop's kindness to them when they were homeless in Honolulu during the 1936 dock strike.

Who was this bishop? How did he get involved in a strike? Could anybody tell me?

One of the things that makes Honolulu such fun is that there's usually somebody who can.

In this case it was Angela Alencastre, 92, the bishop's niece, who lives at the Hale Nani Rehabilitation & Nursing Center. She met me in a wheelchair, then jumped out and pushed it for exercise. Here's what she said:

The waterfront strike was a long one that caused hardship and strong feeling. Seamen on ships marooned in the harbor by the strike were laid off with no place to go.

"My uncle contacted them and said, 'I have a place you can stay but the plumbing is no good,' " the niece reported. "They said, 'Never mind, we'll fix it up.' "

The place the bishop had in mind was the old St. Louis College on College Walk, across Nu'uanu Stream from Chinatown. In 1929, the school moved to its present location at the bottom of St. Louis Heights. The old, dilapidated buildings became the sailors' bunkhouses.

When the strike was settled, the seamen shipped out again to ports all over the world.

"They brought him a beautiful picture of the Madonna," said the bishop's niece. "I think it was from Italy. And they bought him a beautiful lounging chair. When he died, the sailors stood watch in church."

Bishop Stephen came to Hawai'i with his parents at age 6 from the island of Porto Santo off Madeira, attended St. Louis College and decided to become a priest.

He must have been a bright, personable young fellow because a procession followed him down Bishop Street to see him off at the dock when he went to study at Lorraine, France. He spoke Spanish, Portuguese, French, Latin and English.

As a bishop, he had a mind of his own. He sent the body of Father Damien back to Belgium over strenuous local objections because, he said, the grave was neglected at Kalaupapa.