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Kalaupapa Today

Opinion by Father Pat Killilea, St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa

It is 8:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning and the trash collector has just left the church compound. There is still a residue of dew on the grassy lawn but the sun is shining, a slight breeze is blowing and soon that dew will be absorbed into the atmosphere. It would seem like any other Thursday in Kalaupapa but this day is different. It is Holy Thursday and tonight we will observe it like any of the many previous Holy Thursdays over the decades with Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7 p.m.

The original Hansen’s disease settlement was founded in Kalawao on the east side of this Molokai peninsula in the year 1865 with the first patients arriving in 1866. In 1873 the great Father Damien arrived and in 1888 the gentle Mother Marianne. Both lived out their lives in ministry on this special place ‘til death did them part this peninsula. In 1932 the settlement switched to Kalaupapa here on the west side. At this time in history, I happen to be the Catholic chaplain and I consider it to be a great privilege.

As of this date, we have six patients in residence here, four in their own homes and two in our Care Home. Last month our beloved Boogie went to his eternal peace. We miss him greatly. During the weekdays, we celebrate Mass at 6 a.m. On Saturdays, we celebrate at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 9 a.m. It is nice to get a sleep-in on the weekend. On the first Sunday of the month, weather permitting, we celebrate Mass at Father Damien’s church, St. Philomena, in Kalawao. While we have had tours visiting the settlement over the many years, these ceased once the COVID hit our islands. We hope that they will resume when circumstances permit.

Meantime, life goes on here as usual. Board of Health staff as well as National Park workers continue their assigned tasks, some by computer in their residences. The mongoose still invade my porch, scavenging the cat food, the mynah birds continue their raucous squawking, and I “go on forever like old man river.” Aloha.


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