HAIKU — After 100 years, the simple and humble St. Rita Catholic Church is still the heart of the Haiku community.
Parishioners and church leaders gathered Saturday evening and Sunday morning for a jubilee celebrating a century of faith, love, peace and gratitude.
“Today is a special day, and I have been here several times and there is always a great sense of community here. People are proud to be here, they are dedicated to their parish and they are very hardworking,” said Bishop Larry Silva, who has served as bishop of the Diocese of Honolulu since 2005 and flew to Maui to lead Mass this weekend. “Although today is a special day and we congratulate them, their daily commitment is certainly also admirable.”
Silva, also the first Hawaiian-born priest to become bishop of Honolulu, said Sunday afternoon that although St. Rita’s Church is “not adorned” it is not the most important.
“I think what makes this church special is perhaps its humility, its simplicity. It’s a beautiful church that way. I was very impressed with the singing today and everyone joined in,” he said. “So even though it’s a small church in a rural area, people are very attached to it.”
St. Rita’s Catholic Church was built in the 1920s by Father Jules Verhaeghe of the Sacred Hearts in Haiku, which was a former sugar cane plantation district that eventually converted to pineapple in 1921, according to the church website.
Although Catholicism had been practiced on Maui for many years before, the physical building of the faith was established in 1922 and later granted parish status in 1950.
On Sunday, the church showed signs of age and weathering in the walls, floor and rafters of the church, but the community continues to repair and support its structure year after year.
“I think of my own grandfather who was born in this region,” Silva said. “The Catholic faith was definitely here, but now for 100 years there has been this parish and of course a lot of people have passed through here. Many people got married here, people were buried here, people were baptized here; it’s a place where people come together for their joys and sorrows, all because here we meet the resurrected Jesus and I hope people understand that and come to experience that here as we celebrate it every sunday.
With Haiku Marketplace just up the street on Haiku Road, Roots School across from the church, Haiku Elementary School just around the corner, and small neighborhoods scattered around, St. Rita’s Church is surrounded by ‘a “special community”.
Kathy Middleton, a retired high school teacher, has attended St. Rita’s Church since 1986, when her family moved within walking distance of the church, just across the street. Church membership continued with his children.
“My daughter was a choir girl, one of the first girls who served on the altar, and my son had his first communion here and his confirmation”, Middleton said. “It’s really a special community because it’s such a variety of people from different ethnic groups and they all come together and it really feels like a really special place.”
Whether the members know each other or not, they are always welcoming to everyone, she added.
“It always feels like coming home” she says. “We’ve had a lot of different priests over the years, but the dedication, kindness and hospitality of the people in the parish is pretty consistent.”
After prayers, rejoicings, hymns and communion, parishioners and their families gathered for lunch and entertainment.
Although the service is usually held inside the church, the jubilee event was held outside in a large tent to accommodate the large number of attendees. St. Rita’s Church has always remained open throughout the day, allowing the community to enter the building to view photo albums, articles and posters chronicling the history of the parish.
“The beauty of our church has something to do with what the bishop talked about today, that it is a strength to remind us of the things that last and really matter,” said parishioner Carol Petith-Zbiciak after Mass on Sunday afternoon. “It is a strength in times of adversity that we all often face, whether individually or in the community.”
And in keeping with the theme of the day, everyone sang together a song Petith-Zbiciak wrote about the 100th anniversary of the church.
The inspiration for the “Jubilee Song” came after the Good Friday service. She brainstormed some ideas and consulted the lyrics with the church musicians, she said.
“The song is for people here. We the people are the church. said Petith-Zbiciak, who joined Sainte-Rita in 2008. “It’s not just the building eaten up by termites, it’s the people who make it such a wonderful place. It is a gift from God that we have been here for 100 years.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]