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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 24, 2003

Diocese to take in more churches

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

The Sacred Hearts Congregation, the religious order that founded the Roman Catholic church in Hawai'i and helped build it into the largest faith organization in the state, will relinquish most of its Neighbor Island parishes to the control of the Diocese of Honolulu, said the Very Rev. Clarence Guerreiro, the Hawai'i provincial for the order.

Staffing issues are at the base of the decision to restructure, a move that eventually is expected to bring four priests to O'ahu. The other reason is to help the order return to its "communal roots," he said this week.

"It was a difficult decision to make, since people in Hawai'i were products of the missionary experience," said Guerreiro, who added that the changes were a long time coming. "I think with the difficulty of making these choices, we preferred to defer them. ... But the time comes to pay the piper."

With the pool of priests in Hawai'i's Catholic churches shrinking, the move will lead to further shuffling.

"The diocese is already suffering from a shortage of clergy," diocesan spokesman Patrick Downes said.

Diocesan priests won't necessarily fill the open spots in Sacred Hearts parishes, he said. Bishop Francis DiLorenzo will decide staffing issues by July and announce whether diocesan priests will lead those parishes or whether there will be help from other orders of clergy.

No matter which order of priests fills the slots, the bottom line, Downes said, is that more parishes will have to share pastors.

"There is a thrust of sharing resources," he said, and that means everything from looking at who leads the parish to how neighboring parishes can pool their resources.

There are no diocesan seminarians in the pipeline to replace the shortage of priests — two of whom were removed, one died and two others took leave — but there is a Sacred Hearts deacon who is expected to become a priest within the year.

The Sacred Hearts order now administers 10 of the 66 Catholic parishes in Hawai'i. One on Maui technically is under control of the diocese, though it's temporarily staffed by visiting Sacred Hearts priests. The order will relinquish all but four O'ahu parishes and Kalaupapa to the diocese, and some other decisions are pending:

  • The Rev. Paul Zegers will continue at St. Mary's in Hana, Maui, for now.
  • Blessed Sacrament on O'ahu is expected to eventually return to the diocese, but a time has not been set.

Some changes will go into effect July 1, at the same time as other parish pastoral assignments by the diocese; others may take until mid-2004, Guerreiro said.

In a letter read at some churches last Sunday — available online at www.ssccpicpus.com — outlining the restructuring, Guerreiro said, "We are older, and fewer. ... Further, our younger members more accurately fit the category of the middle-aged."

From the beginning, the Sacred Hearts priests, many of them from Belgium, were successful recruiters in Hawai'i, the Rev. Clyde Guerreiro said last year. Even today, at least half the order's 39 local members are from the Islands. However, at age 54, Clyde Guerreiro (Clarence Guerreiro 's cousin) is one of the order's youngest members, and several other younger members have had health problems.

The order's most well-known member is Father Damien de Veuster, who served Hansen's disease patients in the Kalaupapa settlement on Moloka'i and was beatified in 1995. Recently, a miracle attributed to Damien was brought to the attention of Rome, which may move him closer to sainthood.

Besides the four O'ahu parishes and Kalaupapa, the order will focus its energies on its two other communities: St. Patrick's monastery, which offers care to its senior priests and brothers, and the Kane'ohe Sacred Hearts center, which Clarence Guerreiro said will turn its focus to research and development. The move will help the order consolidate by holding monthly meetings to "retool ourselves" and help each other grow, Clarence Guerreiro said.

"What we're trying to do is to try to live in today's world in a communal lifestyle, and we're trying to renew," he said. "For that, we needed to make (this) move.

"I understand that the diocese doesn't have all the priests it would like, but it seems it has a sufficient number to staff all the parishes. We needed to look at ourselves realistically."

In March, the Mainland-based Marist order announced it was removing its three clergy from Kaua'i. Three of that order's priests at St. Catherine's Church in Kapa'a were reassigned out of Hawai'i after more than 50 years in Kaua'i.

Staff writer Tanya Bricking interviewed diocesan spokesman Patrick Downes for this report.

• • •

Congregation's history in Hawai'i

Key dates in the Sacred Hearts history:

  • 1800: The Sacred Hearts Congregation is founded at a midnight Mass by Henriette Aymer de la Chevalerie, a noblewoman who barely escaped death by guillotine for sheltering clergy, and Father Marie-Joseph Coudrin. They met during the French Revolution.
  • About 1804: Frenchman Jean Rives comes to Hawai'i. He later serves Kamehameha II as secretary and interpreter.
  • 1824: Rives sails to England with the king, his queen and a retinue of high chiefs, including Gov. Boki and his wife. From there, Rives goes to Paris on family business. There, he tells a foreign mission society that Hawai'i has been getting its share of Protestant missionaries but Catholics are scarce. The Paris group has no available Catholic missionaries, but it relays Rives' findings to Rome.
  • 1825: Coudrin goes to Rome to ask for a foreign mission.
  • 1827: Three Sacred Hearts priests and three brothers arrive to start a mission. At Fort Street, they rent huts and begin to make friends with Hawaiians.
  • 1831: The priests, who found trouble upon arrival, are exiled to California. One of the brothers, Melchior Bondu, remains.
  • 1839: Religious freedom is granted to Catholics but not until the French navy pressed the issue. The next year marks Bishop Rouchouze's arrival from the Gambiers Islands, where he presided over a flourishing mission. Evangelizing starts in earnest.
  • 1859: The sisters of Sacred Hearts arrive.
  • 1864: Father Damien arrives.
  • 1941: The Diocese of Honolulu is established.

Source: Sister Mary Dolorine Pires, who has written extensively about the congregation and teaches a class on its history.