LAIE, Hawaii — Soon after the Catholic Church canonized Saint Damien of Molokai in October 2009, largely for his 19th century work at the leprosy or Hansen's Disease quarantine settlement on the isolated Kalaupapa Peninsula, senior service missionaries in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Hawaii Mission Settlement began wondering how they might add that information to the exhibit in the small, thatched-roof chapel that tells how Christianity came to the islands.
They had no idea, however, that the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Honolulu would respond by presenting the PCC and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a unique certificate "in gratitude for the collaboration" of St. Damien and Jonathan Napela, a traditional Hawaiian ali'i or chief who was among the earliest converts and leaders in the Sandwich Islands Mission. The lives and stories of the two men became inseparably entwined at Kalaupapa in the 1870s.
The Most Rev. Clarence "Larry" Silva presented the certificate to Von D. Orgill, president and CEO of the Cultural Center, and Area Seventy Elder Scott D. Whiting, during a meeting on May 7, 2010, that began with flower lei greetings and a Hawaiian chant. Also participating in the presentation were Father Marc Alexander, Vicar General for the Honolulu Diocese; Steven C. Wheelwright, president, Brigham Young University-Hawaii; R. Eric Beaver, president and CEO of Hawaii Reserves Inc., and his assistant, Steve Keali'iwahamana Hoag; John A. "Jack" Hoag, Hawaii public affairs director for the church; and Elder Marshall and Sister Jolene Ogden, the service missionaries, as well as several other PCC officers and leaders.
Bishop Silva said that though the two men belonged to different churches, they worked closely together at Kalaupapa in selfless service to the patients; and that each eventually contracted the dreaded disease, died from it and were buried there. St. Damien once described Napela as his "yoke-mate" in the work.
Josef de Veuster left his native Belgium and was ordained Father Damien, SS.CC., soon after arriving in Honolulu in 1864. Following nine years of ministering on the island of Hawaii, he volunteered to serve at Kalaupapa, which the Kingdom of Hawaii had established as a confinement colony for Hansen's Disease patients in 1865. By early 1885 it was confirmed that Father Damien was a patient as well as a priest. He died from the ravages of the disease in 1889 at age 49.
Napela, who was among the first Hawaiian chiefly children educated at Lahainaluna by Protestant New England missionaries, helped Elder George Q. Cannon translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian soon after joining the church. He also served as a missionary and helped establish a short-lived church settlement on the island of Lanai as well as the Laie Plantation in 1865. In 1869 he traveled to Utah where he became the first known Hawaiian to receive temple endowments and be ordained a seventy. When his wife, Kitty — once described as the most beautiful woman in Hawaii — was diagnosed with Hansen's Disease in 1873, Napela chose to leave his leadership responsibilities behind and accompany her to Kalaupapa as a non-patient kokua, or helper. He soon began working with Father Damien, but he, too, became a patient within one year and died on Aug. 6, 1879. His wife died a short time later.
Orgill thanked Bishop Silva for "allowing us the opportunity to share this message with the people who come here from everywhere in the world." Then, following Polynesian custom, he presented the Catholic bishop with a gift: a hand-carved Hawaiian koa wood paddle, which represents that "we're all on a journey, and hopefully, we're much more often paddling together, trying to make good things happen, to preserve in the world the things that are worth preserving, and to share those things with everyone that we know, love, care about and associate with."
In addition to the new certificate, Jonathan Napela also continues to be remembered in Laie, where a heroic-sized statue outside the BYU-Hawaii Cannon Activities Center recognizes him and George Q. Cannon for their work in translating the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. The school's Hawaiian Studies program is also named in Napela's honor.
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