Splashdown on Kalaupapa

Community Contributed

By Father Pat Killilea, St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa

She stood on the highest level of the pier flanked by her companion mermaids, Christina and Molly, then on the count of three (interrupted by two and a half) she launched herself far out into the water like a champion swimmer at the Olympic Trials, then quickly surfaced like a playful dolphin. Slim Sam, better known as Sister Sam, true to her vivacious and sprightly nature, was leading the water show in the company of the young people from the Newman Center in Manoa, Honolulu. This splashdown and frolicking in the waters of our harbor was one of the highlights of our young visitors’ stay in Kalaupapa.

Monday morning had seen these young visitors arrive at Kalaupapa airport full of life and eagerness to experience life to the full here on this special land of Father Damien and Mother Marianne. After the usual sign-in at the Administration office followed by check-in to the Wilcox visitors’ quarters, we set out in the two well-travelled state vans over the rough but familiar Damien road to St. Philomena Church in Kalawao. These young pilgrims joyfully participated in our celebration of Mass in the very same church built by Damien’s own hands.

Afterwards we had lunch at a picnic table in the tree shaded area of Judd Park, once the location of an investigation hospital for Hansen’s disease patients at the beginning of the 20th century. On the return journey to Kalaupapa town, we hiked up to the long-dormant Kauhako crater. This is an experience that all of our younger visitors enjoy immensely. Even I at 70 (going on 17) get a thrill from this hike, the view at the top, and the welcome descent, though I do confess to feeling relieved each time I reach the base and Damien road.

I did not get to accompany this merry band of adventurers when on another outing they went to explore the Old Ladies’ Cave on the outer fringe of this peninsula. However, the ever-energetic Sister Sam did go with them and, true to her adventurous spirit, led the way down into the cave. Had I joined them in this escapade, I would have brought a sturdy rope along so that I might be lowered into and drawn out of this lava tube wonder!

While our young friends enjoyed such fun times and sacred services during their days here, they also found time to roll up their sleeves (if they had sleeves) and under the watchful eyes of Sister Theresa, did a lot of service work at Bishop Home as well as in the settlement gardens. I was delighted to have the parish van, the Paddy Wagon, cleaned and washed inside and outside by Andrew, the campus minister. It was a pleasure to have had these young men and women with us for these days. They are a delight and an inspiration. We were sad to see them leave at the end of their time here and we look forward to seeing these mermaids and mermen again in the not too distant future.


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