Nestled in between the shoulders of 400-foot tall skyscrapers lies Hawaii’s longest running Catholic cathedral preserved with features that date back to the reign of King Kamehameha III. The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is the mother church of the Diocese of Honolulu, home to the Bishop of Honolulu, and site where the two saints of Hawaii rest. Contained within the cathedral’s walls, which were made from coral blocks from the Kaka’ako shores, is a rich history that witnessed nearly 200 years of committed care to the land and community of the Hawaiian islands.
The First Catholic Parish
The first Catholic missionaries arrived in Hawaii on July 7, 1827. Among the group was Fr. Alexis Bachelot, who was the prefect apostolic and a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Upon arrival, the missionaries were quick to integrate themselves with the island’s community. After learning the language, Fr. Bachelot and the other Catholic priests handed out bibles written in the Hawaiian language and held sacraments and baptism ceremonies for hundreds of the island’s natives. One year later, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace was built in the heart of what is now downtown Honolulu.
In 1831, King Kamehameha III, who was pressured by his Protestant advisors, enforced a policy that restricted the practice of Catholicism in the Hawaiian islands. Fr. Bachelot and the other Catholic priests were then expelled from the islands. It was until 1839 when the French frigate Artémise sailed into Honolulu Harbor and issued a manifesto demanding among other things, freedom of the Catholic religion in the Hawaiian Kingdom.
After settling back into Hawaii, catholic priests were able to formally dedicate the Cathedral on August 15, 1843. The anniversary, however, is observed on August 16 due to the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven being celebrated on August 15.
Cathedral Basilica Today
Today, the Cathedral Basilica continues to be a place of pilgrimage in Honolulu’s lively downtown district for the island’s Catholics. Though the cathedral’s surroundings have changed from jungles of wood and dirt to concrete and steel, many of the cathedral’s set pieces remain and are still in use.
The cathedral’s bell tower, which was constructed in 1917, is the oldest of its kind in Hawaii and each strike to the tower’s bell produces a lofty ring that roams through downtown’s busy streets. The organ, which was dedicated in 1934, is also the island’s oldest organ that is still in use and its rich, warm breaths fill the church giving an almost nostalgic feel for those visiting the cathedral.
Besides being a display of historical architecture, the cathedral is also the resting grounds of the remains of St. Marianne Cope and a relic of St. Damien de Vuster. Within the cathedral is a shrine where churchgoers can pay their respects to these two figures who gave their lives to serve the Hawaiian community in God’s name.
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace continually seeks to provide the best for Hawaii’s Catholics while upholding the historical and cultural beauty of the church that had stood for multiple generations.
A Look Ahead
In 2016, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace launched a renewal campaign to address a number of needed repairs and revisions to aid in the preservation of the cathedral’s ethereal beauty and historical importance. The campaign sets out to build a new chapel to permanently preserve a state-recognized and nationally-recognized historic treasure, provide a more appropriate liturgical environment, strengthen and enhance its role in the downtown community, and honor Hawaiian culture and the evolving multicultural community with artistic detail and design elements. To learn more about the renewal campaign and how to help, visit HonoluluCathedralRenewal.org