Image above: President James Monroe. Image right: Triumph, depicting eventual victory of Union, with reference to the Missouri Compromise. Created by Morris H. Traubel, 1861. Images courtesy Library of Congress.
U.S. Timeline - The 1820s
A Decade of Compromise and Doctrine
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July 14, 1827 - The first Roman Catholic Mass is held in the Hawaiian Islands and leads to the foundation of the Diocese of Honolulu.
Yes, some contest the date as suspect. That the missionaries who had arrived in the Hawaiian Islands earlier in 1827 would not have held a Mass on Bastille Day, July 14, because concelebrations of masses had not yet started, and that even the use of that date as a celebration of Bastille Day would be inaccurate, because in 1827 France was being ruled by the restored monarchy. Other history books use that date as accurate. This is the vagary of history and in many ways the date does not matter, although it is still possible that a religious celebration occurred on July 14, 1827 by the missionaries there, and certainly probable that the priests, Fathers Abraham Armand and Alexis Bachelot of France, and Father Patrick Short of the United Kingdom, plus their six lay brothers, had celebrations there prior to the first baptism on November 30. Yes, most historians like that date.
How did the Catholic missionaries arrive on the islands? Why did they come and how were they received by the Kingdom of Hawaii and its subjects? Those questions are likely more important than the date of the first celebration. French explorers had visited the islands since May 30, 1786 when the two ships of captain La Perouse landed. He did not claim the islands for France. Forty years later, the first mission of Picpus Fathers, founded during the French Revolution, was established by the Prefecture Apostolic of the Sandwich Islands and Pope Leo XII. Fathers Armand, Bachelot, and Short, and possibly others, left Bordeaux, France on November 21, 1826 on the ship Comete, stopping in Chile, and arriving in Hawaii on July 7, 1827. The population of the Hawaiian Islands at the time was approximately one hundred and fifty thousand.
The King, Kamehameha III, was not glad to see them, and only thirteen years old when they landed. So he agreed with his Protestant advisors (English and American protestant missionaries had been coming to the island for almost a decade), and did not grant them entry for two days. Once the fathers were granted entry, they engaged themselves in Hawaiian society and began to gain converts, including royals governors and other influencial Hawaiian natives. This, however, did not sit well with their competition, the Protestant missionaries, mostly Congregationalists from New England, who had allies in the converted Queen Regent Ka'ahumanu and the King Kamehameha III.
Catholic Expulsion From the Kingdom
On December 24, 1831, King Kamehameha III expelled the Catholic Church from the Kingdom of Hawaii. Fathers Bachelot and Short were forced to evacuate, boarding the brig Waverly, and sent back to California to the missions near Los Angeles. The converts left behind were beaten, and imprisoned. It is supposed that some were treated in that manner with the acknowledgment of the Protestant ministers now in control. The persecution was alleviated in 1835 when a religious advocate of the Picpus Fathers arrived, Colombo Murphy, later relieved by Arsenius Walsh, a Picpus Father in 1836. It was eventually agreed that the Picpus Fathers could minister to foreign Catholics, but not Native Hawaiians.
Thinking that an agreement would allow their entry, Fathers Bachelet and Short sailed back to the islands, returning on April 17, 1837. They were not welcomed, forced back on their ship within two weeks by the royal government. The American and British consuls intervened; the Fathers were escorted back onto Hawaiian territory. Two years later, the French arrived to put an end once and for all to the religious persecution. King Kamehameha III feared reprisal and issued an order, the Edict of Toleration, on June 17, 1839. He donated land for the first permanant Catholic Church on the islands and paid $20,000 in restitution for the deportation of the priests and torture of the converts.
Edict of Toleration, Portion
"That the Catholic worship be declared free, throughout all the dominions subject to the king of the Sandwich Islands; the members of this religious faith shall enjoy in them the privileges granted to Protestants."
The Catholic missionaries would break ground for their new church on July 9, 1840. The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace remains today on Fort Street as the oldest structure in downtown Honolulu.
Image above: Engraving of Our Lady of Peace Church, 1853, Paul Emmert. Courtesy Library of Congress. Image below: Painting of King Kamehameha III, 1825, Robert Dampier. Courtesy Honolulu Musuem of Art via Wikipedia Commons. Source Info: Hawaiihistory.org; Tikiroom.com; Library of Congress; Wikipedia Commons.