‘Aloha Spirit’ Rises From the Ashes on Maui

Community outreach and prayer offer ‘glimmer of light.’

Students at Sacred Hearts School are happy to learn; tents serve as classrooms in the wake of the devastating blaze that damaged their school in historic Lahaina.
Students at Sacred Hearts School are happy to learn; tents serve as classrooms in the wake of the devastating blaze that damaged their school in historic Lahaina. (photo: Courtesy of Sacred Hearts School)

MAUI, Hawaii — The joyful voices of staff and students still join together to sing 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, the favorite song of Sacred Hearts School, the 161-year-old beacon of learning in the heart of Lahaina, which was heavily damaged by the blaze that ensued from the devastating wildfires in August.

This song, which they sing together each week, is an anthem of hope and thankfulness. 

“It helps to remind us that although we may have lost much, we still have so much more to be thankful for, especially the love of God; his Son, Jesus; and Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we ask for her intercession to get us through our difficult times,” said Principal Tonata Lolesio, who was committed to reopening the K-8 school at a new location.

Lolesio says she was able to meet with her faculty and staff the week after the fire. “When we discussed returning to school, they responded that the students need us now more than ever,” Lolesio told the Register. “We all felt compelled to continue the mission of Catholic education as our way of serving the community in its time of need. It was also essential for us to have purposeful work to return to, given the uncertainty and magnitude of the destructive fire.”

She added, “We needed to keep the school open, especially during a disaster, so people knew we were there for them and could share our Catholic faith and bring hope in a time of despair.” 

It was important to the local Knights of Columbus and EPIC Ministry to assist Principal Lolesio.

EPIC Ministry, a young-adult group, raised the funds for new furniture for the school, which providentially arrived in Kapalua in time for the start of the school year Aug. 28. Donors and vendors also furnished curriculum, teaching supplies and computers.

The Knights of Columbus assisted in building tents for classrooms to get the school up and running on the Sacred Hearts Mission Church campus in Kapalua.

“Since we relocated to the mission church, there has been a tremendous outpouring of love, prayers and support from near and far, especially within our diocese and Catholic parishes and schools nationwide,” Lolesio said.

“We know, through what we receive in the mail and from people who have come to our aid with their time and energy, that God loves us deeply in our time of need,” she said. “He is truly working miracles through the love of others. He is truly with us in every way possible.” 

Communal Prayer

It has been three months since devastating wildfires fueled by strong winds from Hurricane Dora leveled the picturesque town of Lahaina, claiming the lives of 99 men, women and children in the early hours of Aug. 8, leaving four people still unaccounted for, and displacing thousands of residents who lost homes and businesses.

Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva came to assuage the grief of the Catholic community Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day, sharing his condolences and bringing a message of hope amid suffering as he celebrated Mass at Sacred Hearts Mission Church.

“We have come today to lament with you, to mourn with you, and to grieve with you,” Bishop Silva said in his homily, standing next to rows of flickering candles each representing a loved one lost in the devastating Lahaina wildfire. 

“The grief over loss of property, loss of jobs and loss of precious memories pales in comparison with the grief that we feel over the deaths of those brothers and sisters whose names are recalled to us here. They were, to most of you, much more than names on candles, and the grief over their loss is deep,” he acknowledged.

Beacon of Hope

Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina survived the fire, but Bishop Silva was unable to celebrate the memorial Mass there, as the historic town on the west coast of Maui — the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom — is still closed to the public, awaiting a massive clean-up effort to clear the area of toxic materials before residents can permanently return and rebuild. Some estimates place a price tag of as much as $6 billion to restore what was lost. In his Nov. 2 homily, Honolulu’s spiritual leader put that into context.

“After all the toxic waste is removed, after all the plans are made, and after the frenzy of construction that will surely go on in the next few years, you have reason to hope for the restoration of this once beautiful and historic town,” Bishop Silva said. “And, in spite of the darkness of loss, we may even now see the glimmer of light.”

Tourists were allowed to return to parts of West Maui beginning Oct. 8, and the remainder of the island, except the burn zones of Lahaina, reopened Nov. 1. Maria Lanakila Church, however, stood as a beacon of hope amid the ashes.

“Maria Lanakila Church miraculously remains amid the ruins,” Father Kuriakose Nadooparambil, pastor of Maria Lanakila, told the Register. He concelebrated the All Souls’ Day Mass with Bishop Silva. 

He said that of the 800 registered families in his parish, 455 families lost their homes. Another 100 non-registered families also lost their homes. In all, 2,200 structures were destroyed by the fire.

“Many members of the parish staff lost their homes but were always available to offer assistance to others. Even amidst all this suffering and grief, our parish families came together to support, to talk to each other, to listen to each other’s experiences, and, most importantly, to pray together,” Father Nadooparambil said.

Skyrocketing housing costs and limited availability have created serious challenges for survivors who lost their homes and businesses in the blaze. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green signed the Eighth Emergency Protection on Wildfires (EP) on Nov. 6, placing restrictions on price gouging on rent, food and water.

“Because of donations, we are able to help our displaced parishioners pay for rent, housing and utility bills. Gift cards have been purchased so parishioners can use them for food, clothing and material needs. Our parish staff has been working with Catholic Charities and the Red Cross to provide housing to those displaced,” Father Nadooparambil explained.

“Through all the grief and suffering, we experienced the hand of God. He guided us and continues to guide us as we support so many of our Lahaina community who have lost so much,” he added.

Outpouring of Support

Signs of hope over the weeks since the wildfires forever changed the lives of Maui’s inhabitants have come in the outpouring of support for the affected communities and the reopening of Sacred Hearts School.

The Diocese of Honolulu, Catholic Charities Hawaii and Catholic Charities USA have joined efforts over the past few months to provide material support, trauma-informed mental-health counseling, and case management services for affected Maui residents.

Catholic Charities USA has collected $1.5 million so far toward Catholic Charities Hawaii (CCH) Maui relief. 

The money is being used for temporary housing, financial assistance, counseling, everyday essential needs and, in the future, rebuilding homes, having helped approximately 1,800 wildfire survivors to date.

Catholic Charities Hawaii President and CEO Robert Van Tassell told the Register: “We are here for the long haul and are committed to accompanying them in the days ahead. Our CCH staff have been on Maui since the fires to offer support; working in the community and assisting collaboratively with our partners, individuals and families. We are helping with housing, financial assistance and more. As we talk with people and hear their stories, we are humbled that they have placed their trust in us to meet their needs.” 

Bishop Silva praised the efforts of local entities. “I am especially thankful for the Knights of Columbus and for EPIC Ministry, a wonderful young-adult ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu, for all their ‘boots-on-the-ground’ work with the people of Maui,” he told the Register.

EPIC, an acronym for “Ever Present In Christ,” is an Oahu-based young-adult group (ages 18-39) that focuses on empowering “young adults to follow Christ by spiritual, social, and service paths.”

Both the Knights of Columbus and EPIC volunteers sprang into action upon learning of the wildfires in Lahaina on Aug. 8, teaming up to collect supplies on Oahu, chartering boats — and even a plane — to transport critical supplies and volunteers as the road to Lahaina was closed. They coordinated their efforts with both Maria Lanakila Church and Sacred Hearts Mission.

“It is often said, ‘Where there is a need, there is a Knight,” said Knights of Columbus State Deputy, Ryan Brown, in his message about the Maui fire on the organization’s website. “Recovery will be long, but rising from the ashes is the Aloha spirit with prayers and blessings from across the world of people wanting to help.”

Gratitude Amid Suffering

Bishop Silva wants everyone to know how much he and the people of Hawaii appreciate the outpouring of support they have seen over the past three months.

“In spite of the tremendous suffering the people of Lahaina are undergoing, I know they are very grateful for all who have helped in their recovery efforts through their healing presence, sharing of resources, and providing for concrete needs,” Bishop Silva said. “God has brought many blessings out of such a great tragedy. We are grateful for the prayers and support of all!”


HOW YOU CAN HELP  To donate to Maui relief, go online to the Catholic Charities Hawaii Maui Relief Fund or visit the Hawaii Catholic Community Foundation at   CatholicCommunityFoundation.org. The Hawaii Department of Health has also set up links to resources on the Hawaii.gov website to assist residents who were injured or who lost family members, friends or pets in the blaze.

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