The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, located at the north end of Fort Street Mall in downtown Honolulu, is said to be the oldest Catholic cathedral in continuous use in the United States and one of the oldest existing buildings in the downtown area. It is dedicated under the patronage of Our Lady of Peace because the first Catholic missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands, members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary gave that title to their first foundation in a new land. The Cathedral stands on land which was given to the missionaries by King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) when the mission was established in 1827.
The first Catholic missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i on July 7, 1827. Fr. Alexis Bachelot, prefect apostolic, was accompanied by Fathers Abraham Armand and Patrice Short, Bros. Melchior Bondu and Leonard and a seminarian. In November of 1837, under pressure from the protestant missionaries, King Kamehameha III expelled the Catholics from the Islands. The turning point came on July 10, 1839 when the French frigate Artemise under the command of Capt. Cyrille Laplace sailed into Honolulu Harbor and issued a manifesto demanding among other things, freedom of the Catholic religion in the Hawaiian Kingdom.
The Cathedral itself was formally dedicated on August 15, 1843. The anniversary is observed on August 16 because the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven is celebrated on August 15.
As an Apostolic Vicariate from 1833-1940, six bishops served the Catholic faithful of Hawai‘i. Bishop Etienne Jerome Rouchouze, ss.cc. (1833-1843), Bishop Louis Maigret, ss.cc. (1847-1881), Bishop Herman Koeckemann, ss.cc. (1881-1892), Bishop Gulstan Ropert, ss.cc. (1892-1903), Bishop Libert H. Boeynaems, ss.cc. (1903-1926) and Bishop Stephen Alencastre (1926-1940). Bishop Alencastre was the first person who was raised in the Hawaiian Islands to become bishop.
The building is made of simple coral stone blocks which were brought to the site from the Kaka‘ako shores. These blocks and the ones used in the building of Kawaiaha‘o Church come from the same coral reef. When both buildings were completed, they were similar in appearance. The inside of the building was very stark; simple wooden altars and lauhala-matted floors.
The Cathedral tower is the third tower which has drawn attention to the presence of the Cathedral. The original tower (1843) was a simple domed-shaped structure which was replaced in 1866 with a tall, wooden spire. The local newspaper acknowledged that it was the loftiest in the islands. This was replaced by the present concrete tower because of termite damage in 1917. A bronze weather vane, often unnoticed, is perched on top of the tower. It has been there since the time of the second tower.
There are two bells housed in the tower. Both of them were cast in France. The first was dedicated to Bishop Maigret and installed in 1853. the second was added in 1866 when the second tower was erected. It bears the name "Aubert" probably indicating its dedication to Fr. Aubert Bouillon, ss.cc., the pastor of Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina, Maui at that time. The Lahaina church was dedicated a few years earlier. Historians seem to think that the bell was originally meant for that church, but somehow ended up at the Cathedral.
The tower clock also has an interesting history. A clock was ordered from France soon after the dedication of the Cathedral. Bishop Maigret sent the order through the office of the superior of the Sacred Hearts Fathers and Brothers in Valparaiso, Chile. It was sent there for inspection before it was forwarded to Hawai‘i. For some unknown reason, it was switched with an older clock in Chile which arrived in Hawai‘i and was installed about 1852 at the base of the original tower. When the roof was raised several feet in the 1870's the clock was positioned in the back wall of the Cathedral. It is the oldest tower clock in Hawai‘i.
The Aeolian-Skinner organ, Opus 916 is the third pipe organ to be installed in the Cathedral. The original organ was a French organ which was installed in 1847 and had the distinction of being the first pipe organ in Hawai‘i. This was replaced in 1876 by a pipe organ from England and the statue of St. Cecilia, the patroness of sacred music, was added to the statuary of the Cathedral. The present instrument was dedicated on September 9, 1934. It was partially renovated and restored in 1985 and is now one of the oldest functioning pipe organs in Hawai‘i. Continued restoration assures it will provide music for the Cathedral in future generations.
The statue of Our Lady of Peace in the Cathedral courtyard was blessed Bishop Gulstan Ropert, ss.cc., on December 24, 1893. It marked the spot where it was thought that the first small wooden missionary church stood. the plaques on the four sides of the pedestal are engraved in Hawaiian, English, French, and Portuguese with the words: "In memory of the first Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of Peace 1827-1893." It is a copy of an original statue which was carved of wood in the early 16th century and is still venerated at the Convent of the Sacred Hearts Sisters in Paris. The first establishment of the Sacred Hearts missionaries was dedicated to Our Lady, Queen of Peace. The Feast of Our Lady of Peace is observed on July 9.
The first kiawe tree was introduced to the islands by the first Catholic missionary to Hawai‘i, Fr. Alexis Bachelot, ss.cc., with a seed from the Royal Garden in Paris. This tree was a real blessing in many ways. These trees have grown all around Hawai‘i, especially in places where other trees have not been able to grow. This kiawe tree accounts for the beautiful trees which grow on the sides of once barren mountains. The original tree was cut down in 1919 to make way for a new building, but a section of its trunk is still preserved next to the Chancery building.
In 1941 the Catholic Church in Hawai‘i was established as the Diocese of Honolulu. Bishop James Joseph Sweeney, a priest from San Francisco, was installed as the first bishop of the Diocese. Bishop Sweeney served from 1941-1967, and was followed by Bishop John Joseph Scanlan (1968-1981), Bishop Joseph Anthony Ferrario (1982-1993), and Bishop Francis X. Dilorenzo (1994-2005.) Bishop Clarence "Larry" Silva has served as Bishop of Honolulu and pastor of the Cathedral since 2005.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace is the site of the ordination to the priesthood of Saint Damien deVeuster, ss.cc. on May 21, 1864. Saint Damien is world-famous for his work with lepers on the Kalaupapa peninsula, Molokai. He himself died of Hansen's disease (leprosy) on April 15, 1889. He was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II in Brussells, Belgium in 1995, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.His feast day is celebrated on May 10, the day of his arrival on the Kalaupapa peninsula. Saint Damien's statue stands in front of the State Capitol in Honolulu and also in the Capitol of the United States in Washington, D.C. where each state is allowed to have two people who were significant in the history of the state honored. The other statue is that of King Kamehameha the Great.
Restoration and Renovation
From 1870-1880 major renovations were made to the Cathedral under the direction of Bishop Maigret. The roof was raised several feet and the paneled ceiling and the gallery were constructed. Stained glass windows from France were installed in the two levels of the Cathedral. These windows, simple in design and brilliant in color, still exist in the upper level of the Cathedral. Sacred furnishings were imported from France; including the gilded statues of Mary, Queen of Peace, and her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne which form an impressive triptych high above the original altar. Thirty-six statuettes of various saints were placed in the clerestory. At the time there was a bit of misunderstanding among Catholics and Protestants about the role of saints in the devotional life of the the Church. Today, they are a rich reminder of the communion of saints: all the holy men and women who have gone before us "marked with the sign of faith." Bishop Maigret also purchased the bishop's chair (cathedra) and an ornate canopy crafted in oak by the Honolulu Steam Planing Mill. The renovations were a casual mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles which brought about a radical transformation of the original simple coral structure. A building typical of 19th century Hawai‘i was transformed into a little cathedral with a distinctive European flavor.
Another period of restoration took place under the guidance of Bishop Boeynaems. While he lived in Hawai‘i the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown and Hawai‘i became a territory of the United States. He envisioned a gothic style cathedral and in 1910 he arranged for the construction of an elaborate gothic porch in front of the simple facade of the Cathedral. The project was too costly and so it was abandoned but the gothic front remained.
Bishop Alencastre realized the impossibility of a gothic cathedral and ordered the removal of the gothic porch and replaced it with the Doric columns which now grace the front of the Cathedral. These harmonized with the Romanesque style of the building. This was done as part of an overall renovation of the Cathedral in 1927 which commenced with the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Catholicism in Hawai‘i. The roof was covered with spanish tiles giving the Cathedral its "Spanish mission" look. The tile roof unfortunately caused great strain on the building. Eventually in 1941 concrete buttresses had to be added to the building to prevent its collapse. These encased steel beams were connected to steel rods just below the ceiling of the Cathedral providing the necessary support for the roof. A white marble altar with statues of Mary and Joseph were crafted by Italian artists and installed as a gift of the Catholics of Hawai‘i to commemorate the centennial year. Fourteen stained glass windows designed by a local priest were made in Germany and installed in the lower level of the Cathedral and the present organ was installed.
In 1956, Bishop Sweeney made some significant changes to the interior. In the center niche, the huge wooden cross was removed and replaced with a marble crucifix. The altar area walls were painted and wallpapered with an impressive and simple background which allowed the marble figures around the altar to stand out more boldly. A richly colored baldachino (canopy) was constructed over the altar with strong gothic lines to match the canopy over the bishop's chair. A bronze tabernacle was acquired, a marble communion rail was installed and new light fixtures were placed throughout the building.
In accord with the renewal of liturgy in the Second Vatican Council, the communion rail was removed in 1967 and a large marble altar was constructed. The Cathedral Rector, Msgr. Charles Kekumano added koa wood wainscot on the walls and koa wood doors in 1968.
In celebration of its 150th Anniversary of Dedication, the Cathedral went though further restoration and renovation in 1992. Under the direction of Bishop Ferrario, a section of the ceiling was restored to its original brilliance and the furnishings of the Cathedral were brought up to the liturgical standards of the Second Vatican Council. Restoration of the stained glass windows and the clerestory statuettes was begun by Cathedral Rector, Msgr. Terrence Watanabe. The old sanctuary was lowered to expand the worship space and create a devotional area with the statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Anthony of Padua. A Eucharistic devotional area was also created around the bronze tabernacle and a scrim was placed to separate and conceal it during celebration of the Mass and yet allow the tabernacle to be seen from the main body at other times. The floor plan of the Cathedral was arranged antiphonally. A wooden altar and ambo were placed appropriately in the center aisle. Plans were made for the complete renovation of the cathedral at an estimated cost of five million dollars. The plans included the construction of a baptismal pool as well as a new altar and ambo from the material of the old marble altar/communion railing.
The restoration of the stained glass windows and the clerestory statuettes was completed by Fr. Nathan Mamo, Cathedral Rector from 1995-1998. The statuettes were arranged in a move logical order and await the complete restoration of the ceiling. Fr. Nathan also acquired other historical artifacts and furnishings for the Cathedral to help to recognize its presence in the history of the kingdom and state of Hawai‘i.
Progress as of August 16, 2018
The Cathedral was constructed in the late 1830s and completed in 1843. While there have been additions and renovations over the past 170 years, there has not been major project to address her needs for decades.While this Cathedral Renewal will address these repairs, Father Gary Secor is taking this opportunity to go beyond this much needed work. With his vision and with those of carefully chosen experts the Cathedral will be more evocative of the nineteenth century, of the time when Saints Damien and Marianne were in this very church.
This past September, October and November, the upper lofts were repaired.
September 6, 2015: Renovations to the upper galleries have begun to
repair years of termite and water damage to our 172 year-old cathedral.
Floor beams and joists will be reinforced or replaced and new electrical
wiring will go in before the new hardwood flooring is laid. Upper gallery
seating is expected to be restored by late November. During renovations we
will continue holding weekend Masses in the Cathedral while daily Masses
will be held in the Kamiano Center. Renovations to the upper galleries are
part of a comprehensive restoration project to address all of the
Cathedral’s structural needs. The Cathedral Renewal Campaign will fund
repairs to the building foundation and structure, upgrades and renovations
to the interior and exterior as well as detailed restoration work to the
stained glass windows, fixtures, statuettes, hand-painted ceilings and
walls. Continue to join us each day/week/month and watch the Cathedral
transform before our eyes.
October 11, 2015: Makai side is finished, Mauka to Begin! We are nearly at the half-way point in our renovations of the upper galleries. This week on the makai side, workers are closing up the floors with a temporary cover while the original wood floors are refinished. In the mean time, pews will be replaced to allow for open seating in the upper gallery – makai side only. Workers now shift their attention to the mauka side gallery, which they expect to complete by November.
October 18, 2015: Construction to the mauka gallery is underway. Floor boards have been carefully removed for restoration of the original hardwood. Workers are reinforcing the upper gallery floors and upgrading the outdated electrical wiring that runs through the gallery floors. Opening the floors has the potential of uncovering unexpected damage and workers were pleased to report that damage on the mauka gallery is less extensive than what was found on the makai side. Therefore, the construction timeline remains on target for completion by Thanksgiving.
October 25, 2015: Videographers captured on film some of the exposed wood beams and in the upper galleries, which workers are repairing now. Video footage of exposed beams and crumbling coral will be used in a campaign video to show the extent of damage that will be addressed as a result of comprehensive renovations, repairs and renewal of the Cathedral Basilica. As pleased as we are to gather this footage, we will be even more pleased when renovations are complete and the structure of our Cathedral is properly reinforced.
November 13, 2015: Work to the upper galleries is expected to be complete for final inspection on November 20, 2015. The previously planned end-date of November 13 was pushed back a week to allow workers to replace a support beam that was uncovered to reveal extensive termite damage. The beam has successfully been replaced, finishing touches are being applied and both galleries will be re-opened within a week’s time.
November 22, 2015: Phase I – complete! Phase II – next spring! Phase I of our multi-phased renovation project is complete – the upper gallery floors have been repaired and reinforced, allowing us to re-open upstairs seating in time for the holidays. Hallelujah! The original hardwood floors are being refinished and will be reinstalled in the galleries during a later phase. Construction will resume again after Easter 2016 when we begin Phase II (install utilities and chill water line for new climate control system) of our comprehensive renovation project. The Cathedral Renewal Campaign to fund renovations is ongoing and we will continue to provide updates as the project progresses.
November 29, 2015: Thank you to the many generous donors whose contributions have helped fund the Cathedral Renewal Campaign. Your gifts and donations provided funding for project planning & development, historic research, architectural design work, renovation of one bay in the Cathedral (mock-up section), and repairs to the upper gallery floors. Your support has been instrumental to the launch of our comprehensive renovation project, which will be ongoing for the next 2-3 years. Therefore, we give thanks to those who have brought us to this point and thank those who will help us finish strong – Mahalo nui loa for your prayers and support!
Year-End Giving: Are you feeling generous this holiday season? Are you considering your charitable giving as 2017 comes to a close? The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace welcomes your gift in support of the Cathedral Renewal Campaign to renovate, restore and preserve the mother church of our Diocese. Gifts to the Cathedral Renewal Campaign are tax deductable to the full extent of the law. Please contact the Cathedral’s campaign office to discuss how you can help by pledging your support! (808) 536-7036 x357
To view more information, please view our Renewal Campaign page.