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Hawaiian Incident

by Mr. Earl Loeffler
Article from THE CRUSADE BEACON, March, 1947, written for the Catholic Student Mission Crusade.

Hey, wait a minute, don't lay this aside, I've an interesting story to tell you. A story of making vestments from parachutes; tabernacles from discharged shells; and of bringing joy to homesick GI's. But whoa, I'm getting ahead of my story.

Just off the West Coast lies a group of islands called the Hawaiian Islands. On one of these islands is a place named Pearl Harbor. (Does that sound familiar?) Besides the US Army and Navy, Pearl Harbor claims the distinction of possessing "home bases" for the Sisters of St. Joseph. How can I mention nuns in the same breath with fighting men, you ask? Read on, O Curious One, I will elucidate!

Back in 1937 [1938] when the American Sisters came to the Hawaiian Islands the "kakai" and "blues" of our boys were not so plentiful. The Sisters were kept busy getting their two schools [St. Theresa and Holy Rosary] organized and making arrangements for establishing religious instruction centers. Their efficiency in these two fields gave them more time to make the boys a home after Dec. 7, 1941.

With the attack by the Japanese, the Sisters prepared for war. They were made officers in the civilian defense program. They were finger-printed and given gas masks, and they in turn finger-printed their little pupils and fitted them with masks. Their school and convent buildings were equipped as evacuation centers, and the playgrounds were cut with trenches for bomb shelters. Their school days were interrupted with drills for many kinds of defense preparations, and several times with actual air-raid alarms.

Need I explain how grateful the chaplains were to find a convent where they could relax a bit and get recharged for their arduous job, have their altar linens washed or repaired and get any Mass equipment which may have been lost in battle? Since the "Padres" had to carry their own Mass Kit along with their regular gear, it wasn't long before they discovered the advantages of light weight vestments salvaged from the silk of discarded parachutes. And who do you suppose could sew these best? Right, the Sisters! This silk was also used as lining in the tabernacles fashioned from discharged shells.

Maybe you think the boys would shy away from a convent, but the fact was that the convent and its surrounding grounds were the closest atmosphere to their own home in the States. Before the Fourth Marine Division made their historic landings on the Marshalls, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima their camp was near the Sisters on the Island of Maui. Their leave-taking before each "push" resembled a religious ceremony and plunged the Sisters and the children into deep anxiety for the safety of the chaplains and other officers and men.

Nor was it only a certain group that visited the Sisters. On almost any afternoon you would find a cosmopolitan group similar to this: Marines cutting the grass, Seabees installing a new kitchen sink, sailors washing the dog, and a couple of fighter-pilots just standing around arguing with the Sisters on a variety of subjects.

On several occasions the children sang Masses at the camps of the fighting men. The Sisters had trained them in plainchant, and for the larger feasts they sang the entire Gregorian Proper.

The GI's retaliated with big Christmas parties, and, due to the 'wizardry' of Sister Martha Mary [McGaw], the GI's contributed to the establishment of the Catholic Library Society of Hawaii. It has circulating on six of the Hawaiian islands thirty-three portable libraries of the latest juvenile books and periodicals that are recommended for Catholics.

That's it, a short story of the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph on Hawaii. Perhaps you can understand why our boys returning home named this, "The Place We'd Like Most to Stop at on our Way Stateside."

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