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Sisters with U.S. servicemen on the island of Maui.

When War Came to Hawaii

The Sisters of St. Joseph and Their Pupils Helped Uncle Sam and His Fighting Men by Sister Anne Catherine [McDonald], C.S.J.

Reprinted from The Cantian, February, 1946

"Sister, how soon will you have enough 'points' to return to the Mainland?"

In their Hawaiian missions the Sisters of St. Joseph are being playfully questioned thus by servicemen calling on them to say 'Aloha' after four years during which they have been guests at the schools and convents and have evoked the keenest admiration and sympathy of the religious. The Sisters, delighted to be resuming their routine as teachers of the little Islanders, are content to be sharing the joy of the homebound sons of Uncle Sam. Writing to their Superiors at the Mother House in Saint Louis, Missouri, they report: "We are saying goodbye to the servicemen now, but, oh, how different the circumstances this time! Now they are not going down under to face combat--and it seems too good to be true--but they are sailing Stateside! Home!"

On the Island of Maui especially, the Sisters of Holy Rosary school have an unusually grim appreciation of war, for, now it can be told, located there was the camp of the Fourth Division Marines, a group which participated in invasion after invasion in the Pacific. The beaches of the Marshalls, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima were all stormed by the Fourth Marines. Their leave-taking before each "push" resembled a religious ceremony and plunged the Sisters, children, and parishioners into deep anxiety for the safety of the chaplains and other officers and men who were their neighbors, friendly and generous.

From their coming to Hawaii in 1938 the American Sisters had co-operated with the American military men, especially the chaplains, in many tasks. It was while carrying out their "detail" of teaching religion to the children of the personnel of Schofield Barracks on the Sunday morning of the Pearl Harbor attack that three of the Sisters tasted the fire of the Japanese....Sister Adele Marie Lemon of Arizona, Sister Frances Celine Leahy of Illinois, and Sister Martha Mary McGaw of Missouri were under enemy planes during their ride of twenty-two miles from their school, St. Theresa's in Honolulu, and then as they attended Mass in the post chapel with their trembling little pupils at their sides, and likewise all through their return trip over blocked roads which they left many times to seek shelter in sugar-cane fields.

Immediately life on the Islands changed. The Sisters became 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.

All the usual drives were held in their schools, and many others that were called for by the special needs on the Islands. In Honolulu, a shortage of soft-drink bottles caused a campaign to collect used ones, and the boys and girls of St. Theresa's gathered 14,413 bottles. The noise rising at times during this drive rivalled that of some military operations.

Both schools earned the Minute-Man flags awarded by the U.S. Treasury Department, and the banners were presented to them during elaborate ceremonies in which the Armed Forces took part. Before the programs, the Army sent artillery and equipment of various types so that the pupils could see the use to which Uncle Sam was putting their savings. The very second that the vehicles pulled into the school yard, the Sisters reported, the children were on them like so many flies. At Holy Rosary School, after speeches by the pastor, the military commander of the island, the commander of the naval air station, and a high-ranking chaplain, a little girl of the school, Caroline Carioso, accepted the flag, and in her address brought tears to the eyes of the hundreds in her audience as she tried to express the love of these Hawaiian children for their country.

To the troops who soon were multiplied on the islands, the parish property, or compounds, of the Catholics was a bit of home. Chaplains were the most numerous visitors, coming to take breakfast after their Masses or to consign their altar linens to the Sisters' care. At the convents, altar appurtenances had to be made, first for the chapels springing up on the islands, and then as the war raged, for use on the beachheads which were secured. After each invasion the kits of the returned "padres" had to be examined and replenished. Altar cloths taken to atolls are usually damaged or lost.

Yankee resourcefulness soon came into play in this aspect of the war effort, as in so many others, and by 1944 the Sisters in Maui were fashioning vestments of discarded parachutes. The manner in which the umbrella is put together does not leave the material in a form suitable for articles that require cloth cut on the length, but chasubles were evolved that were light and took little space in packing....Making linings for discharged shells to be used as tabernacles is another problem put to them by the emergency, and Sister Mary Jerome Mulligan of Illinois solved that in a most satisfactory way. When questioned as to how they could contrive to get this work accomplished in addition to the curricular and extracurricular programs of their schools, the Sisters replied: "It would be difficult to match the fine spirit of the men when there is question of fitting up their chapels. The little contribution that we have made is insignificant compared to the time and energy expended by these boys."

So the chplains made a habit of "invading" the schools and convents, and they brought, this one his violin, that one his phonograph records, and many more only their gifts as story-tellers and mimics, but all enjoyed an hour of relief from military surroundings. Other officers and men "invaded" also, doctors and nurses among them. On almost any afternoon soldiers drawing up to the compound in their jeeps might find 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 St. Louis Sisters about prospects in big-league baseball. Relatives and friends of the Sisters and their former pupils were first in these groups, which eventually, however, included any wholesome boys, Catholic or not, who felt at home in the American and Catholic atmosphere.

The Negro servicemen are special favorites of the Sisters. Reporting about two of them to the Sisters of St. Joseph who conduct the high school for the Colored in St. Louis, the Hawaiian missionaries declared: "Jimmie Johnson and Earl Labadie are both a credit to your school and never can say enough praise of it. Lately Jimmie was on the street-car headed for Waikiki when he spied two of our Sisters waiting for a bus going the other way. He hopped off the car and visited with the Sisters until their bus came, and then resumed his trip to the beach. He is always spick and span as an admiral."

The servicemen, according to the Sisters, were princely in their attempts to repay them for the privilege of seeking haven in their compounds. Anything that skill and necessarily limited supplies could provide was placed at the disposal of the religious teachers. Motion pictures that came to the Islands were shown to them if they had but the least inclination to view them. An outing or party for their pupils was the concern of the servicemen as well as the Sisters. Good swimmers among the men presented themselves as lifeguards when the teachers took the children to the beach for a picnic. At a typical Christmas party, the boys and girls were transported to a giant airport, and each was given in charge to a sailor. Then Santa Claus functioned in gala style and handed every small guest two presents, an article of clothing and a toy. Afterwards a turkey dinner and a "movie" and plenty of candy rounded off the warm bright day....

On one of their many excursions, the choir of the Maui school under the direction of Sister Alice Josephine Tornovish [Marguerite] of Michigan was transported in military vehicles to a local base for a Solemn High Mass on Navy Day. After being photographed for the Flypaper, the publication of the naval air station, they sang Mass at 5 o'clock and afterwards were guests of the navy men for dinner. The Sisters relate of this: "You should have seen the children when they learned that they would have dinner with the navy men! The diners near them tried to get them to tell which of the Sisters were cranky and which punished the most severly and so on, but they were quite diplomatic and would only say that all the Sisters were good to them. The sailors told the Sisters afterwards that the children, arranging themselves behind their chairs, stood and said their grace together before eating, much to the surprise of the men in the immense mess hall. The children, however, were not concerned about the impression they were making, and they repeated the prayer when they were 'pau'."...

Early in 1944 some of [the Sisters] wrote that foremost among their desires was that of hearing again the singing of the choir at their Mother House. That wish was no sooner expressed than the editor of The Cantian, Father John Mix, made for them a set of recordings of the Christmas Mass and hymns at Carondelet, which presently were riding across the Pacific to the Hawaiian convents.

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