The first Catholic church on Maui turns 150 years old today.
Maria Lanakila Church will kick off a yearlong celebration with a Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday at the church on Wainee Street in Lahaina. Hawaii Bishop Larry Silva will serve as the Mass celebrant.
The Rev. Gary Colton, pastor of Maria Lanakila Church, speaks fondly of his parishioners while showing off the view from the choir loft inside the 150-year-old church.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
A parish picnic featuring food, potluck dessert and games for children will follow on the Sacred Hearts School campus, which sits on the church property.
Plans are to close the yearlong celebration at the same time next year with a Mass and luau.
The Rev. Gary Colton has served as Maria Lanakila's parish priest for the last two years.
With some 2,000 families in the congregation, Maria Lanakila has formed a variety of church groups identified by their ethnicity including Hispanics, Tongans and Hawaiians. "I like the cultural mix of all the people here," Colton said. "We cover the whole west side, and you're constantly meeting people of all races."
Situated off the historic Front Street, a popular site for tourists, at least half of Maria Lanakila's congregation at weekend Masses holds visitors of both domestic and international backgrounds. "The Europeans love this church. They tell us it reminds them of their own churches," Colton said.
Established by priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Maria Lanakila Church's records show its founders initially ran into resistance, but in time, "the faith spread in spite of troubles until more than 3,000 Catholics were here at the end of 1841."
When the Catholic clergy arrived on Maui, they settled into a small house off Front Street by the area where King Kamehameha III Elementary School now stands. They eventually acquired the 8 acres on Wainee Street that includes two parking lots across from the church.
Maria Lanakila was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1858, and the parsonage was built at the same time, both with coral stone and adobe. Lahaina remained the principle mission until 1855 when Maui was divided into three districts of Lahaina, Wailuku and Hana.
Today, Colton keeps the historic church open throughout the day so that visitors can come and worship any time. Many take photos of the building, which has undergone only a few renovations over the years.
"This church is rooted in the history of Hawaii," Colton said. He notes that the first Catholic priests held Masses on the beaches and moved inland when they decided to erect a building for worship. They named their church Maria Lanakila, which means Our Lady of Victory, in honor of Mary, the mother of God, and her triumphs with the faithful.
"To them it was a victory to set up the church here," Colton said.
As part of its 150th anniversary, a parish committee within Maria Lanakila Church is asking for photographs people may have of church activities. Photos can be brought to the church rectory in Lahaina so that copies can be made and then returned to their owners.
In addition, Sacred Hearts School, which was established four years after the church, is actively searching for alumni to document their experiences at the school. Alumni and parishioners can send in their old stories and/or photographs directly to the Sacred Hearts School office or to Maria Lanakila Church rectory. E-mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 661-4720.
Colton said he and his parish are embarking on plans to patch up the roof and paint both the exterior and interior of the church. The job has an estimated price tag of approximately $100,000.
Maria Lanakila also intends on continuing an outreach program it started 13 years ago with parishioner Marie LaBanca, the church's outreach coordinator. The program provides the needy in West Maui with support including rental assistance, utility payment, food and holiday baskets.
LaBanca said hundreds of men, women and children have benefited. Funding has come from a variety of sources including the church's parishioners and through partnerships with other Christian churches. "It's a great thing to help people," LaBanca said.
Maria Lanakila Parish Council President Rick Wayne said he and others hope to spend the next year celebrating their parish and "its vibrant future."
"It's an ohana here, a family. Everybody's close-knit," Wayne said.
The church's planning calendar for this year and next includes a parish breakfast, a special Easter celebration, a May Day program and a variety of prayer events including public rosaries and Masses.
For more information, call Maria Lanakila Church office at 661-0552, or visit the Web site: www.maria lanakila.org.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at email@example.com.