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THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN POHNPEI
The Initial Struggle
The Capuchin friars who landed at Pohnpei in March 1887 were not the first Catholic missionaries to work on the island. Fifty years before their arrival, in December 1837, a small schooner christened the Notre Dame de Paix brought Fr. Desiré Maigret and the body of his companion, Fr. Bachelot, who had died en route to Madolenihmw. With the help of two Mangarevans and two Hawaiians, Fr. Maigret spent six months trying fruitlessly to establish the faith on Pohnpei before leaving to resume work in Polynesia. The American Protestant missionaries who first came to Pohnpei in 1852 were much more successful. Half of the island population were church members and virtually all the rest heavily influenced by the Protestant religion by the time of the Spanish takeover.
It was only when Spain gained full title to the Carolines after its controversy over the islands with Germany that Spanish authorities decided to establish a colonial government in the archipelago. The Capuchin Order was asked to furnish the missionaries to work in the islands, and the first friars departed from Spain in early April 1886. A few months later six Capuchins were sent to Yap to begin missionary work in the western Carolines. Meanwhile, the religious assigned to Pohnpei, the seat of Spanish rule in the eastern Carolines, remained in the Philippines while the government prepared its next expedition. Finally, in early February 1887, a party of government and missionary personnel departed from the Philippines and steamed eastward, stopping at Yap for some days along the way.
On March 14, 1887, the ship anchored off the northern coast of Pohnpei at Mesenieng, the site of the new Spanish colony. The curious onlookers that lined the shore watched the Spanish governor, Isidro Posadillo, disembark, followed by the entire government entourage: the governor's secretary, two military officers, 50 soldiers, and 50 Filipino convicts. Also aboard the ship were six Capuchins assigned to work on Pohnpei: Fr. Saturnino de Artajona, Fr. Agustin de Ariñez, Fr. Luis de Valencia, Br. Miquel de Gorriti, Br. Gabriel de Abertesga, and Br. Benito de Aspa. The Capuchin Provincial, Fr. Joaquin Llevaneras, and his secretary had also come to help set up the mission.
Within a couple of weeks, the Spanish colony–named Santiago de la Ascension–began to bristle with buildings including the church and Capuchin residence. The church dedicated to the Mother of the Divine Shepherd, was finished in time to hold the first public mass there on Palm Sunday, April 4. Two weeks later, on the same day on which the solemn proclamation of Spanish sovereignty was celebrated, the first Catholic baptism took place. The three-year old son of a Pohnpeian woman and Manuel Torres, a Filipino who had come to the island a few years before, was given the name of Isidro with all the solemnity that the missionaries could muster for the occasion. Later in that same week the missionaries celebrated another spiritual conquest when they received back into the church Narciso de los Santos, a Filipino who had been living on Pohnpei for 37 years and had spent the last several years as a lay teacher in the Protestant church.
The Capuchins, under their superior Fr. Saturnino de Artajona, took up residence in their newly finished quarters and began laying plans for their difficult missionary work in a land that had recently been evangelized by American Congregationalists. Within a month of their arrival, Edward Doane, the sole American Protestant missionary on the island, was arrested when he ran afoul of Spanish authorities over a claim to land adjoining the colony. His arrest and deportation to Manila for trial were an indication of the new tensions emerging on the island in which the Catholic missionaries would soon become embroiled. At the end of April, the Nahnmwarki of Kitti paid a visit to the priests and asked them to establish a mission station in Alenieng. He had been at odds for some time with Henry Nanpei, a political rival and prominent church leader in Kitti, and hoped that the Catholics would act as a check on his growing power. Work was soon begun on the new mission station, although these efforts were soon abandoned as the first violence broke out.
The new Spanish Governor had adopted a strong policy of forced labor in an attempt to obtain workers to complete the construction of the colony. Harsh and insulting treatment by the Spanish soon brought about a strike by Pohnpeian laborers. When the Spanish troops attempted to force the Pohnpeian laborers to return to work, some of the men from Sokehs and Nett opened fire and killed 20 of the troops. At the news of the slaughter, the Capuchins recommended that most of the Spanish be evacuated at once to a pontoon ship that lay in the harbor. Meanwhile, the priests carried on negotiations with the Pohnpeian warriors in their own residence for the next two days, as a small Spanish force guarded the colony. The negotiations came to nothing, however, and the remainder of the Spanish defenders withdrew to join the others on the pontoon boat. Governor Posadillo and several others were killed during the retreat. Fr. Agustin and Br. Benito, the last of the missionaries to withdraw, were almost abandoned when the Spanish boat pulled away from shore as the Pohnpeians opened fire; they were forced to drop their belongings and swim out to the boat. For the next several months they and the entire Spanish party took refuge on the old pontoon ship, Maria de Molina. Only with the arrival of three Spanish warships at the end of October was peace restored and Spanish control over the colony reestablished.
The mission residence had been destroyed and all the Capuchins' possessions–medicine chest, carpentry tools, chinaware, library, and building materials–had been lost. The missionaries submitted a claim to the government for the 2,500 pesos worth of goods that had been ransacked and began the slow task of rebuilding. For a time they lived in a nipa hut barely large enough to hold the six of them; the roof was blown off in a strong wind a few nights after they occupied it. By the middle of January 1888 they started constructing a small chapel, six yards by four, out of whatever materials they could salvage from the ruins of the colony. The new governor, Don Luis Cadarso, was not especially sympathetic to the missionaries and would not provide materials for the construction. When they set out on one occasion to pick up some lumber from another part of the island, they met an armed group of Pohnpeians and were forced to turn back for fear of their lives. It was late in September before the ship arrived with building materials for the Capuchins' new residence. With the help of a couple of carpenters and a detachment of soldiers, the missionaries finally began work on the new residence, built of wood and roofed with zinc, which was finished on Christmas Day 1888.
In January 1888, even as the Capuchins were resettling in the outskirts of the colony, they opened their first boys' school. These schools were normal appendages to all of the mission stations that the Capuchins established; in time they also added girls schools to their stations. The schools were initially very small, sometimes having no more than three or four students, who usually lived at the parish house with the Capuchins. Classes were usually held during the morning and included instruction in the Spanish language and catechism, with a little arithmetic and geography on the side. The young boys learned their mass prayers and religious hymns, and would help the lay brothers with work in the shop or garden during the afternoon. At the end of the school day students assembled to say the rosary in Pohnpeian and make an act of consecration to Our Lady. The first student enrolled in the school, a young boy given the name of Miguel, was baptized together with his mother at the end of his first year of instruction. His mother was sent off to Manila where she could continue her religious education at a school run by the Daughters of Charity.
The conditions under which these missionaries worked were far from ideal. Between them and the Protestant pastors, both Pohnpeian and foreign, there was suspicion and mistrust, if not outright hostility. Their working relationship with the Spanish governor and his staff was not much better. The governor and some of his staff, influenced by accounts that had been published by the liberal press abroad, held the Capuchins indirectly responsible for the uprising of the previous year because of their aggressive stance towards the Protestant ministers and their people. For their own part, the missionaries had serious complaints about the government, especially regarding the lax morality that was so conspicuous around the colony. So many Pohnpeian women were visiting the colony to prostitute themselves, one priest wrote, "that one can not take a walk in any direction without falling over soldiers and kanaka girls in the most indecent postures." At least on their outrage at this wanton display of indecency Catholics and Protestants were in agreement. Both churches protested to the governor, who did very little to check the abuses.
The missionaries opened their second mission station–the one that had been begun at Aleniang soon after their arrival–in July 1889. This project, which had been halted at the time of the first uprising, was afterwards delayed for several more months. The Capuchins themselves decided to postpone the opening of the station when they learned that the Nanmwarki of Kitti, who had initially requested the church, had dismissed his wife. Then the Spanish authorities stalled in providing the materials and the transportation for the project. But when Governor Cadarso began construction of a road between the colony and Kitti, the first leg of a road that he envisioned building around the island, he showed new enthusiasm for the mission and persuaded the missionaries to open the residence and church at once. On July 1, the Spanish ship Manila steamed into Mwudok Harbor off Wene with Capuchins, an official government party and some 80 troops to attend the solemn dedication. They were met by the Nanmwarki, dressed in European clothes, who showed the Capuchins to the modest residence he had prepared for them. The Capuchin residence was located near the Nanmwarki's house only 60 yards away from the Protestant church. On the following day a mass of dedication was celebrated in the tiny nipa church named for St. Felix of Cantalacio, and Fr. Agustin de Ariñez and Br. Benito de Aspa remained to staff the new church and school.
Spanish Capuchins outside the mission residence on Pohnpei
During the following months, the two Capuchins assigned to Kitti set about replacing their small quarters and the hut that served as a chapel with more substantial buildings. By the end of October they and their Pohnpeian workmen had finished work on a comfortable wooden residence and church. The formal blessing of the new church that the missionaries had hoped to be a grand and solemn occasion was disappointing. The entire garrison of 40 soldiers from the Spanish fort nearby turned out for the occasion, firing cannon salvos at the end of the blessing, but very few others attended. Only a half dozen Pohnpeians, including the Nanmwarki and his wife, were in the church, and none of the Spanish officials bothered to come from the colony for the ceremony. Meanwhile, just a few yards away, the Protestant church was thronged with worshippers who had come from as far away as Madolenihmw to attend the three-hour service that Edward Doane ran. The meaning of the contrast was evident to the Catholic missionaries: they had the good will of the Nanmwarki of Kitti, but the Protestants had the support of the overwhelming majority of the people.
The governor was soon pleading with the Capuchins to open a third mission station, this one in Ohwa, Madolenihmw. The priests had serious doubts about the wisdom of such a move, for they knew that since January 1890 rumors had been circulating that Madolenihmw was arming itself. Having met with delegations of chiefs from that part of Pohnpei, the Capuchins knew how bitterly opposed Madolenihmw leaders were to the establishment of a Spanish garrison there. Governor Cadarso, however, intended to continue the road-building project and determined to set up another fort at Ohwa, where he also hoped to have a church strategically located. The Capuchins yielded to his persistence despite the obvious dangers. In early June, Fr. Agustin and Br. Benito were assigned to the new mission in Ohwa, while Fr. Luis and Br. Miguel were sent from the colony to take their place at Aleniang. Fr. Agustin and his companion were feasted by the Nanmwarki at Temwen and sent on their way to Ohwa where they got along surprisingly well with the people. Despite their feelings about the project, Pohnpeians would come over to the temporary mission quarters in the evening to listen to Br. Benito play the accordion or to ask questions about religion. Even when the missionaries made it known that they would build their new church next door to the Protestant church, as they had done in Kitti, there was no public outrage on the part of the people. American church leaders protested to the governor, but they were ignored.
Tension between Pohnpeians and the overworked Spanish garrison in Ohwa rapidly built up to the point of violence. In late June the people of Ohwa attacked the Spanish troops and killed over 30 of them. Fr. Agustin and Br. Benito, along with the few other survivors, were hidden in the dormitory of the Protestant school until they could be smuggled out to the Spanish ship that came to put down the rebellion. Over the course of the next several months the Spanish tried again and again to take reprisals and recapture Ohwa even as their casualties mounted. Finally, in late November, the Spanish successfully stormed the fort built by the defenders, but were soon forced to give up the position and withdraw to the colony. The Catholic buildings under construction had been destroyed in the fighting, and the Capuchins abandoned any plans to rebuild the mission there.
This second outbreak of violence was very costly for the Spanish, who lost 118 men and spent nearly 200,000 pesos to put down the uprising. Spanish authorities, who were quick to blame the first uprising on the indiscretion of the Catholic missionaries, again looked for a scapegoat for this recent revolt. They found one in the Protestant missionaries, whom they accused of at least collaborating in the uprising if not actually engineering it. At the encouragement of Governor Cadarso, an American warship removed the remaining Protestant missionaries from Pohnpei, leaving Henry Nanpei the most influential Protestant leader on the island.
Meanwhile, the Capuchins tended their two mission stations and strengthened their struggling schools. The small school in Aleniang grew in enrollment and enjoyed a sudden prosperity when the Nanmwarki of Kitti donated to the school some of the 500 pesos that he received yearly from the Spanish government. The new governor who replaced Cadarso in February 1891 visited the school twice, each time distributing to every one of the students the gift of a peso. In the colony the missionaries started the construction of a new school building in September. Until then nearly all the students had been boarders who lived and attended classes in the mission residence itself. As work began, the Capuchins had the usual problems in getting the government to assist them. At first the governor would not provide building materials, then would not supply troops for the labor. When soldiers were eventually detailed to assist in the work, they arrived late and were changed frequently, so Pohnpeians ended up doing most of the construction work themselves. At last, in February 1892, after five months' work and a 600 peso investment, the new school building was dedicated in a ceremony attended by all the highest chiefs on the island. The enrollment rose almost immediately to 30, the highest figure yet in the young mission.
The early 1890s were frustrating years for the Capuchin missionaries. New governors followed one another in rapid succession–there were five between 1891 and 1894–but none proved capable of effectively dealing with the tension on the island. As one governor after the other despaired of ruling the island and settled for placating the chiefs, the Capuchins complained that the respect for the government was diminishing with each passing day, and with it the influence of the Catholic mission. When Governor Concha in 1894 let it be known that he planned to resume work on the road around the island, there was immediate ferment throughout the island, especially in Madolenihmw. Rumors spread of an impending attack on the colony. Soldiers who wandered too far away from their companions were routinely ambushed and killed. A Filipino convict who had lived for a time with the Capuchins while doing carpentry work on some of the mission buildings was found dead one day with an ugly gash in his throat. Fr. Agustin, the pastor of the Kitti church, spoke to the governor about the danger in attempting to carry out this course of action, but he was unable to change the governor's mind. The governor had also spread the word that he was inviting the American Protestant missionaries to return. This had a devastating effect on the Catholic schools; students withdrew in large numbers to await the return of the Protestant missionaries and the reopening of their schools. Only when authorities in Manila expressed their disapproval and censured his recklessness did the governor abandon these plans.
Relations between the Capuchins and the government remained as bad as always throughout the remainder of Spanish rule. Several of the governors supported the work of the Protestant mission in the name of freedom of religion and a liberal ideology. Moreover, they tried to withhold government support for the Catholic church for the same reasons. This, of course, put them squarely in opposition to the Capuchin missionaries, who expected the same close collaboration between the church and the government that had existed throughout Spain's colonial history. An additional reason for the conflict was the unsparing attacks of the missionaries on the vices of the Spanish officials and troops. The colony had become a sewer of prostitution and wild drinking, the Capuchins maintained, and they forbade their converts to visit there even to sell produce. These continual denunciations, before governors in Pohnpei and in letters to Manila, did not improve the Capuchins' relationship with the government.
In May 1893 the mission received new encouragement with the arrival of five new Capuchins to work on Pohnpei–Frs. Estanislao de Guernica and Bernardo de Sarria, and Brs. Carlos de Benisa, Julian de Vindaurreta, and Serafin del Real de Gandia. Three more Capuchins were added about the same time–Frs. Jose de Tirapu and Segismundo del Real de Gandia, and Br. Sebastian de Sanguesa. One of the mail ships for the same year brought copies of a dictionary of the Pohnpeian language compiled by Fr. Agustin, the most fluent of the missionaries in Pohnpeian. His book was the first published by the Catholics working on Pohnpei. In later years Fr. Bernardo produced a small dictionary of his own and Fr. Buenaventura published a devotional book under the title of Joulang Katek.
Groundswell in the North
The work of conversion had gone slowly during the early years of Capuchin activity on Pohnpei: by the end of 1893 there were fewer than 100 persons baptized into the church. Then, in 1894, rapid expansion suddenly began in the northern part of the island. The Nanmwarki of Sokehs visited the Capuchins to ask for a church and school in his territory; and on January 11, 1894, the new mission station, dedicated to St. Francis, was opened at Denipei. Fr Luis was put in charge of the new station, with Br. Sebastian assigned to help him. The following month one of the priests paid a visit to the Soulik to work out arrangements for the establishment of a new mission in Uh. The Capuchins were to pay the chief 135 pesos for the construction of the buildings and they would move in as soon as the work was completed. The project was far enough along to allow the Capuchins to open their school in March, although the church of St. Joseph in Awak was not dedicated until December 10, 1894. Fr. Luis and Br. Sebastian were transferred from Sokehs to care for the new mission station in Awak, while Fr. Bernardo and Br. Carlos took over Sokehs.
The missionaries faced more difficulties in the southern part of the island. Fr. Agustin, one of the most versatile and best loved missionaries, had done all that he could to win the hearts of the people of Kitti during his years as pastor of Aleniang. Yet there remained some strong opposition to the Catholic church. He had hoped to begin a new mission station in Lohd, a kousapw of Madolenihmw not far from the Kitti border, but government policy forbade the opening of any mission without the approval of the Nanmwarki and other high chiefs of the territory. There was no chance of the Capuchins' obtaining such approval from Paul, the Nanmwarki of Madolenihmw, who still strongly mistrusted the Spanish and resisted all efforts to set up a Catholic mission in his area. Fr. Agustin had to be content with the one station at Aleniang to handle the entire southern part of the island.
The overall mission picture was suddenly brighter than ever before. There were four mission stations in all, one in each of the kingdoms except Madolenihmw. The enrollments in the Catholic schools were higher than ever before, and each of them now had a separate class for girls. More than 70 students showed up for class at Awak on the day that the school opened, and daily attendance averaged about 50 afterwards. The three schools in the northern part of the island held a joint contest in reading and religion before the governor and his staff, who awarded prizes to the winners. Even the school in Kitti, which had been doing so badly that Fr. Agustin had packed up his mission supplies and was ready to give it up as lost, was receiving many new students. Soon a second school had to be opened in RohnKitti to accommodate all those who wanted to enroll. The new surge of interest in the Catholic religion had also made it necessary for Fr. Agustin to begin adult religious instruction classes each day. At the end of six months he recorded 21 baptisms, more than the total received into the church in Kitti in the previous five years.
Six more Capuchins–four priests and two brothers–arrived in 1896 to further strengthen the mission. Fr. Saturnino, the superior of the mission since its founding, returned to Spain and Fr. Agustin was transferred to the mission center in the colony to replace him as superior. Fr. Bernardo was assigned to fill his former position as pastor of Aleniang, while Fr. Segismundo went to Sokehs and Fr. Jose took over Awak. Although two other Capuchins, Frs. Luis and Estanislao, also left Pohnpei at about this time, there still remained a good-sized staff of eight priests and eight brothers to care for the mission.
Soon a string of baptisms of high-ranking chiefs occurred that strengthened the influence of the church beyond any of the missionaries' expectations. The Wasai of Sokehs was the first in March 1896. His baptism was a solemn and joyous occasion, celebrated in the main church in the colony amid colorful pennants, the ringing of bells and the discharge of muskets. After the Wasai and his wife received the sacraments and had their marriage blessed, they were brought into the mission residence for a reception complete with wine, sweets and cigars. The Soulik of Awak was baptized together with some of his people barely a month later, and the number of converts from Awak grew in subsequent months. A year later, in March 1897, the Nanmwarki of Kitti, who had supported the Catholic mission in his area from the beginning, was received into the church together with his whole family. The entire Spanish community on Pohnpei turned out in Aleniang for the occasion. The superior of the Gilbert and Marshall Island mission, along with the crew of his mission bark, also attended the long and elaborate ceremony. The governor, who served as godfather for the newly baptized chief and his wife, afterwards gave them a wardrobe of clothes and two large gold rings. A few months after this event the Nanmwarki of Uh and Lepen Nett asked to be received into the church. By the end of 1897 some of the highest chiefs of every kingdom of Pohnpei except Madolenihmw had become Catholic and the number of baptisms each year had grown to over a hundred.
Br. Sebastian de Sanguesa, the last of the Spanish Capuchins to leave Pohnpei
Within a short time, however, violence once again broke out on Pohnpei. One of the Protestant teachers from Mwahnd, angered by the governor's acquittal of the Soulik of Awak of charges of murdering a Protestant leader, began preaching a crusade to drive the Catholics out of Pohnpei. In March 1898 the forces from Mwahnd, supported by people from Madolenihmw and Uh, gathered their canoes off Awak to attack the mission there. At first the Awak people refused to answer their rifle fire, but finally they made a counterattack and after a three-hour battle drove the invaders off. The Spanish cruiser Quiros steamed into Awak the next day and arrested Nanpei, who was suspected of instigating the attack and supplying weapons to the invaders. The Spanish released him soon afterwards, however. A month later, after word had reached Pohnpei of the impending war between the US and Spain, the assault was resumed. This time a force of 900 men, rallied from Kitti as well as Uh and Madolenihmw, appeared offshore. The Awak defenders, supported by allies from Nett and Sokehs and aided by the Spanish warship, again routed their enemies. To guard against future attacks, Awak was fortified by a large wall and reinforced by a contingent of Spanish troops for the next several months.
Although the worst of the fighting had ended, tension continued through the remainder of the year and into the next. The Madolenihmw people, encouraged by reports of American victories over Spain abroad, remained on the lookout for a way to renew the attack on Awak. American whaleships that appeared in January 1899 sold them guns and ammunition and provoked them all the more. The Catholic mission residence in Aleniang was plundered and burned to the ground, and the missionaries living there were forced to take refuge in the colony. When the Spanish troops who were stationed in Awak began molesting the women there, the Capuchins were forced to complain to the governor. This only further aggravated the differences between the missionaries and the government. Unfounded stories about some of the priests began circulating. Soon two of the priests, Fr. Bernardo and Fr. Segismundo, left the mission for good, and so Br. Julian was left to care for the Sokehs mission alone for the next three years. Fr. Agustin was taken sick in February 1899, and after treatment at the hands of one of the Spanish medical officers he experienced terrible stomach pains. He died two days later of what the Capuchins believed to be poisoning, possibly because of his strong denunciations of Spanish abuses.
When the Spanish ship España arrived at Pohnpei in May 1899, it was flying the American colors and brought an interim governor, the last of a line of 12 Spanish administrators. With the sale of the Carolines to Germany the following month, the Spanish officials and troops could settle back to await their release from Pohnpei. This was not the case with the Spanish missionaries, however. They would continue to bear the responsibility of caring for Pohnpei during the early years of German rule until they were eventually replaced by German Capuchins from 1904 on. With Fr. Jose Tirapu as mission superior, the diminished group of Capuchins–then three priests and five brothers–did what they could to provide pastoral care for the island.
Despite their reduced numbers, the Capuchins expanded their mission network. In 1899 they opened a new station at Nanpohnsapw, Nett, which was entrusted to the care of Fr. Juan and Br. Ricardo. Soon after this, Fr. Jose and the new German governor visited Aleniang to inspect the ruins of the former mission station, where they found the site overgrown and very little left that could be salvaged. The governor, out of sympathy for the missionaries, wanted to hold the vandals responsible for paying damages, but Fr. Jose felt that this might inflame old passions once again. Instead, he chose a new site at Roi, the center of the small Catholic community in Kitti, and sent Brs. Benito and Carlos to begin work on the new church, residence and school. Like the former station at Aleniang, this new one was dedicated to St. Felix of Cantalacio.
With only three priests for the entire island, some of the mission stations were occupied only by brothers for the greater part of the time. Brs. Benito and Carlos were assigned to care for Roi until Fr. Buenaventura was later transferred there. Br. Julian lived alone in Awak administering the station and running the school, and he was afterwards assigned to Sokehs where he assumed the same responsibilities. The priests were stationed in the colony and Nett and visited other churches on weekends to say mass and attend to other pastoral needs. Under this kind of patchwork arrangement it was inevitable that the school enrollment and mass attendance would decline. Many of those who had been received into the church during the groundswell of enthusiasm in the mid-1890s fell away, some of them returning to Protestantism. The Spanish missionaries no longer enjoyed the active support of the government for their work, even if this support had not always been willingly rendered during Spanish times. The annual subsidy of 14,000 pesos that the Pohnpei mission received from the Spanish government had been discontinued, and the mission's financial situation was critical. Yet, despite the lack of funds and manpower, the Spanish Capuchins could count over 800 Catholics among their flock by the time that German Capuchins took over the mission in 1904. Considering the troubled times in which they worked, this was a remarkable achievement.
The new German government in the Carolines praised the conduct of the Spanish missionaries and expressed a willingness to have them continue their work in the islands. Nonetheless, the social and political realities on Pohnpei had clearly changed. Schools were encouraged to teach the German language and a government subsidy was provided to assist them in this. German was to be the lingua franca in the area and missionaries who did not speak the language would be at a serious disadvantage. Recognizing this situation, the Capuchin Order sent out its first two German missionaries in 1903. One of them was sent to Yap and the other, Fr. Victorin Louis, was assigned to Pohnpei to begin teaching German in the mission school in the colony.
A year later, in November 1904, the mission of the Eastern Carolines was formally entrusted to the German Capuchins of the Rhine-Westphalian Province. Within a month the first contingent of German missionaries, seven in all, arrived at Pohnpei. Fr. Venantius Duffner, the Capuchin superior on Pohnpei and the apostolic administrator of the entire Caroline mission, took up residence in Kolonia. With him lived Fr. Victorin and four brothers: Othmar Gesang, Melchior Majewsky, Kolonat Metzen, and Koloman Wiegand. Fr. Fidelis Dieterle went to Kitti to take possession of the mission station that had been transferred to Roi just a few years before. The transition from Spanish to German missionaries was swift. Within the next few months four of the six remaining Spanish Capuchins left the island for Europe. Only two brothers stayed on to help staff the mission stations until more personnel arrived from Germany. Br. Sebastian worked for a time with Fr. Fidelis in Kitti, while Br. Julian continued to maintain the station at Awak, which still had no priest.
The new missionaries lost no time in settling down to work. One of the first things the new superior did was to purchase seven hectares of land in Kolonia, the present site of the mission, on which he planned to expand the church quarters. Meanwhile, the Germans began teaching classes in the four mission schools, with their total enrollment of 125, that were then in operation around the island. They soon also initiated requests to have German teaching sisters come to the islands to instruct Pohnpeian girls.
The normal round of mission activities came to an abrupt halt on April 20, 1905, when a fierce typhoon devastated the island. The typhoon brought death to a dozen Pohnpeians and injury to another 200 or 300, destroyed most of the housing on the island, and left the people seriously short of food. It also leveled almost all of the mission buildings in different parts of the island; only the churches in Sokehs and Kitti were spared, and even these were badly damaged.
German Capuchins on Pohnpei in 1908
The energies of the new missionaries were soon directed towards a massive rebuilding effort. Recruiting 50 Pohnpeian men as laborers, the Capuchins installed them and their families in two large dormitories that had been hastily erected and provided canned food and rice (180 bags of it) for everyone for the next several months. Building materials were expensive and mission funds were limited, but the reconstruction began almost immediately. Within a few months the missionaries and their Pohnpeian workers had replaced the church, school and residence in Kolonia with what were intended to be temporary buildings. More permanent structures would be started in time as funds allowed. Br. Koloman made other improvements in the Kolonia mission as well; he cut a channel and built a boathouse on the new property, cultivated a garden, and cut paths leading to the prospective site of the new church and residence. All the while, he and the other German brothers cooked meals for the laborers and their families, kept a sharp lookout for fish and whatever other little local food might be offered for sale, and served as dentist and physician for all.
Meanwhile, reconstruction was also going on at the other mission stations. Fr. Fidelis put in a boathouse and dock of his own in Kitti after repairing the buildings that had been damaged in the storm. Br. Othmar was sent to Awak to supervise the rebuilding of the residence and the small church which also served as a school. All day long Br. Othmar would work with his Pohnpeian assistants under the watchful eye of the Soulik of Awak, and at the conclusion of the day's work, the Soulik would invariably hand Br. Othmar a cup of sakau with an approving nod. Only in Sokehs was no attempt made to rebuild or repair typhoon damage. As it was, the mission's resources were taxed to the limit by the rebuilding program. The Capuchins had spent nearly 20,000 marks by year's end and Fr. Venantius was obliged to send urgent requests to Europe for emergency funds.
Br. Othmar at work on the new church
There was at least one positive effect of the typhoon. The people of Takaiu, perhaps inspired by the efforts made by nearby Awak in rebuilding their church, decided that they too wanted a church on their island. In the months following the storm they built a chapel and 50 catechumens presented themselves for instruction for baptism. Their church was dedicated in honor of St. Fidelis in September 1905 and the island became a sub-station thereafter. Less than a year later, another mission station was opened on the island of Parem in Nett.
With the arrival of three more Capuchins–Fr. Crescenz Huster and Br. Eustach Kessler in 1905 and Fr. Gebhard Rüdell in 1906–the German missionaries at last had adequate manpower to assign a priest to each of the four main mission stations. Fr. Gebhard took over the Sokehs church, and Fr. Victorin was sent to Awak together with Br. Eustach, who replaced Br. Julian, the last of the Spanish missionaries to leave Pohnpei. Fr. Crescenz was soon made pastor of the Kolonia church, while Fr. Fidelis continued to care for the Kitti church. A Capuchin brother was assigned to each of these stations to assist the priest in charge. Fr. Venantius, who had worked in Kolonia while exercising his authority as prefect of the entire Caroline mission, prepared to move the seat of the mission to Yap. This he finally did in 1907 because the newly completed cable station there allowed him to communicate easily with the outside world.
Pohnpei was also strengthened by the arrival of the first three Franciscan nuns in January 1907. The three–Sr. Buenaventura, Sr. Bernardina and Sr. Katharina–were met at the dock and escorted to the mission property in procession. There they found the buildings decked with bunting and festooned with flowers and the grounds thronged with Pohnpeians who had come to greet them. After the usual religious ceremony ending in the singing of the Te Deum, they were installed in the new convent built for them, a building complete with running water. A few days afterwards, the sisters were in the classroom in Kolonia instructing young Pohnpeian girls in German, arithmetic, and the catechism, not to mention choral singing, dictation and what could be called home economics. They ran a dormitory for girls similar to the one for boys run by the Capuchins in Kolonia, and also taught German language classes to adults in the evening. Their impetus was felt in the schools at the other mission stations as well, and soon there were separate schools for girls and boys attached to each mission residence. Within two years of their arrival, there were more than 250 students altogether over half of them girls. A few of the teachers in these schools were Pohnpeians.
Evangelization proceeded well on Pohnpei during these years. New converts were being made in Kitti through the work of Fr. Fidelis, while the missionaries continued to exercise strong influence over the northern part of the island. Palikir was the only really pagan stronghold in the north, but even that began to change by the end of the decade. The missionaries were averaging about a hundred conversions a year during this period, and the Catholic population had grown to about 1,200 by 1909. Another savage typhoon, that which devastated the Mortlocks in March 1907 claiming over 200 lives and stripping the islands of all produce, had provided the missionaries with new pastoral opportunities. In the months following the typhoon several hundred Mortlockese had been brought to Pohnpei to find livelihood and a new home, and the Capuchins began to make conversions among these people as well.
German Sister working with school girls
The German missionaries wrote back to Europe of the impressive faith of many of their converts. One woman from Awak who had taken the name of Conception at baptism brought her six young nephews to church for mass every morning without fail. In the evening she and her brood would return over the rough and muddy path to attend rosary. From time to time there were especially moving demonstrations of the strength that the Catholic faith had attained on Pohnpei. One such occasion was the feast of Corpus Christi in 1910 celebrated with a solemn mass and procession that drew between 800 and 1,000 Catholics from all parts of the island. Since the large stone church that was being built in Kolonia was not yet finished, the mass had to be held outdoors to accommodate the huge numbers. Behind the young men and women under the large banners of St. Aloysius walked small girls dressed in white strewing flowers along the road, while four of the highest chiefs on the island carried the canopy covering the Blessed Sacrament. As the procession moved from one temporary altar to another, the choir sang Latin and Pohnpeian hymns and the people recited the rosary.
To feed the devotion of their people, the German missionaries published several books and pamphlets in Pohnpeian. An illustrated bible history and a catechism, both translated by Fr. Crescenz, appeared about the same time that a book of prayers and a hymnal were published. A geography book in German was printed especially for the students in the mission schools on Pohnpei. After 1911 the Capuchins also began publication of a periodical that was issued under the title Uju nan Matau (Star of the Sea). The addition of another priest and brother (Fr. Ignatius Ruppert and Br. Gereon Gerster) in 1908 and another sister to the teaching staff the following year provided the necessary personnel to carry on these new activities.
The Uprising and Its Aftermath
Even as mission work advanced, however, there was growing unrest on Pohnpei. When Georg Fritz assumed the position of district officer in 1908, he had introduced laws designed to reduce the tribute paid to chiefs and had imposed forced labor on all Pohnpeians as a government tax. The discontent grew more serious when his successor, Gustav Boeder, announced plans to rebuild the long-neglected road to Kitti and summoned the Sokehs people to begin work on it since they had not paid their labor tax for the previous year. Finally, in October 1910, matters came to a head when one of the German supervisors beat a Pohnpeian and the laborers went on strike. As feelings grew more heated and the Pohnpeian workers threatened the lives of the Germans, the latter fled to the mission residence in Sokehs and remained with Fr. Gebhard. When Boeder and his secretary came from Kolonia to settle the problem, they were killed and their bodies disfigured. Alarmed at what had happened, the Germans who had taken refuge in the mission slipped out of the mission residence and were themselves killed while trying to reach the dock.
The German community retreated into the colony, fortified it as best they could, and called on people from the other parts of Pohnpei to come to their defense. Meanwhile, the Sokehs people with their allies took up positions close to the walled enclosure and opened fire on the defenders. The Catholic mission, which lay just outside the fortified colony, was exposed to the gunfire even though it was never directly attacked by the Sokehs people. At the first sound of gunshots, the sisters hustled the boarding school girls into the church, while the Capuchins took the boys into the cellar. The siege continued for the next 40 days. Normal mission activities were carried on during most of this time, but always in a climate of apprehension and uncertainty. Pohnpeians attended rosary in the early evening with their beads in one hand and a knife in the other, and the brothers worked at their chores on the mission grounds with a rifle at their side. Even after the arrival in early December of the first German ships with supplies and a detachment of Melanesian troops, the tension continued. Only in early January 1911 were enough reinforcements and guns landed to allow the Germans to begin their counteroffensive against the Sokehs rebels. By the end of February the Germans had forced the surrender of the Sokehs warriors, pursued the handful of fugitives to the interior of the island, and executed the ringleaders of the uprising. Not long afterwards, over four hundred Sokehs people were rounded up by the German government and sent off to Palau in exile.
Following the uprising there were the usual attempts to lay the blame on one religious faction or another. Fritz wrote a pamphlet accusing the Capuchins of fanning hostiling there were the usual attempts to lay the blame on one religious faction or another. Fritz wrote a pamphlet accusing the Capuchins of fanning hostilities towards the Protestants, and a German woman who visited the island for a day or two published a wild attack on the Catholic missionaries and their work. Nearly everyone else, however, agreed that the reforms introduced by Fritz and furthered by Boeder, along with the insulting behavior of the German road foremen, were the major causes for the rebellion. Henry Nanpei's role in the whole affair is uncertain, but it was undoubtedly a significant one, for his personal influence had only increased with the years. Both the Catholic mission and the Protestant mission (since 1907 under the control of the German Liebenzell Society, with Germans replacing the American missionaries) distinguished themselves for their attempts to mediate the difficulties and restore peace to the island.
The uprising and its aftermath brought significant changes to the mission. Since Sokehs was virtually deserted after the exile of several hundred of its people, the mission station there was closed and Fr. Gebhard was sent to begin a Catholic mission in the Chuuk area. A considerable number of the Mortlockese who had made their home on Pohnpei after the typhoon of 1907 had become Catholics, and for some time they had been asking for a missionary to be sent to their own islands. In April 1911, Fr. Gebhard and Br. Eustach left Pohnpei to found a new mission on Lukunoch. In succeeding years Pohnpei served as a training ground and staging area for the new mission field in the west, especially after the expansion to Chuuk itself in 1912. Fr. Severin Oppermann, who had spent two years working on Pohnpei, replaced Fr. Gebhard in the Mortlocks in 1912, and in the same year Fr. Ignatius was assigned to Chuuk to become the superior of the new mission there. Within a year or two, Br. Melchior, one of the first German Capuchins on Pohnpei, also went to Chuuk, where he died in a building accident a year or two later. Meanwhile, Fr. Placidus Müller, a missionary in Palau who had begun working with the Sokehs exiles in Aimeliik, was transferred to Pohnpei.
After many lean years, the Capuchins were beginning to make real headway in the southern part of the island. In Kitti, where Fr. Crescenz had taken over as pastor in 1909, there were soon more Catholics than in the Kolonia parish. The large number of converts, especially in Enipein, had raised the Catholic population to over 500 even as it brought about a shift in the center of church activities. Since the old mission buildings in Roi were dilapidated and in need of replacement, the Capuchins decided to move the site of the church to Wene, a place that lay midway between the two Catholic strongholds of Enipein and Roi. The missionaries purchased three hectares of land in Wene and moved the church and residence there in 1911. Unfortunately, the pastor became the target of rumors of a scandal, later proved to be false at a libel hearing conducted by the German government. Although his name was cleared, he was withdrawn from Kitti and sent to Awak.
The Capuchins even opened a station in Madolenihmw, an area that had always had the reputation of being militantly anti-Catholic. When two of the chiefs in this section had converted to Catholicism some years before, they had been stripped of their titles and land. One of them, the Dauk of Madolenihmw, was banished for this and other alleged acts of insubordination. Their families had been converted to Catholicism, however, and the number of Catholics in the area soon approached a hundred. It was time, the Capuchins felt, that they took steps to provide these people with pastoral care and perhaps begin to proselytize others in the area. As it was, the Capuchins had for some time wanted to obtain a copra plantation to provide a regular source of income to help defray growing mission expenses. They had bought 20 hectares in Awak for this purpose, but they needed a larger estate than this. In 1910 at a public auction they purchased a 100-hectare plot of land that had once been owned by the German overseer Hollborn, one of the first to be killed in the uprising. The family of Hollborn's Pohnpeian wife had given him the land, but German land law required that the land be auctioned at his death if there were no sons to inherit it. This land, situated in Tamworoi, was not only ideal for the plantation that the missionaries hoped to establish, but it was a foot in the door in a district in which Catholics had never yet been able to set up a station. At first, the chiefs of Madolenihmw refused to allow the Catholics to make use of their landholding there, but they eventually gave way and in January 1913 the first church and school were opened there.
The German-built cathedral on Pohnpei
The mission headquarters in Kolonia was taking on a new face during this same period. A year or two before the Sokehs rebellion, three Capuchin brothers had begun work on a new stone church to replace the temporary wooden building that had been put up after the typhoon in 1905. On the mission grounds they had set up a sawmill that employed waterpower from a stream; there were also brickwork and a kiln in which they could make the cement they used on the new church. This small industrial complex was the pride of the colony, and visitors were almost always brought over to see these amazing achievements. The church that was then being built was even more impressive, however. With its tall belltower and the graceful lines of its arches, it resembled a small-scale European cathedral more than a Pacific island church. Work on the church was nearing completion when the announcement was made in 1911 that the Caroline Islands, now juridically rejoined with the Marianas, would be elevated to the stature of a vicariate and would soon have its first bishop. The following year Salvator Walleser, a Capuchin who had spent six years in Palau, was consecrated bishop of the vicariate. He arrived at Pohnpei, which was to be his episcopal seat, late in the same year, and the church, finished a few months later, immediately became his cathedral. With the new bishop installed, Fr. Venantius was now free to leave Yap, where he had been directing church affairs, and return to Pohnpei to resume his old position as pastor of Kolonia.
Interior of the Pohnpei cathedral during mass
The Catholic mission on Pohnpei had never flourished more brightly than on the eve of the outbreak of World War I. There were now 1,500 Catholics comprising nearly one-third of the population of the island, and more than 350 students attended the six mission schools. It was all the more of a blow, therefore, when on an October day in 1914 a Japanese warship steamed into the harbor, disgorged hundreds of troops, and announced the seizure of the island. After they had disarmed the handful of German officials and troops, the Japanese marines stormed the mission with fixed bayonets and machine guns trained on the buildings. After a thorough search of the premises, an officer apologized for the inconvenience and explained that his men were looking for weapons. Thereafter the missionaries were left to their work, at least for a time.
For the next year the mission found that any communication with other parts of the world was impossible. Without the foreign subsidies on which the mission depended, funds were running very low, and so Bishop Walleser left by Japanese steamer for the U.S. to solicit financial help for the struggling mission. Although successful in getting money to the mission, he himself was refused permission by Japanese authorities to return to the islands. The mission received other severe setbacks as well. Fr. Crescenz, one of the most beloved pastors, died on Pohnpei in 1915, a year after Br. Othmar had passed away. The Franciscan teaching sisters were expelled by the Japanese in 1915 and all the mission schools were closed by order of the new government. The remaining Capuchins worked as best they could during the next few years under increasingly heavy restrictions. They were permitted to say mass and give the sacraments, but could do little more than that. Community meetings, even for religious purposes, were forbidden and the missionaries' travel was curtailed more with each passing month.
Finally, in the summer of 1919, the three priests and five brothers who persevered in their work on Pohnpei were summoned by the Japanese governor and told to pack their personal effects. Within a few hours they were on a vessel bound for Yokohama taking their last look at the island where they had worked so long and hard. The German missionary epoch on Pohnpei was over, but the foundations for Catholicism they had built would survive.
Building on Former Foundations
Within two years the young church on Pohnpei had foreign missionaries once again. As soon as the Japanese won formal title to the islands in 1920, an emissary was sent to the Vatican to negotiate for the return of missionaries from a neutral country. Pope Benedict XV called on the Spanish Jesuits to take over the mission in which Capuchins had worked so well for over 30 years to plant the faith, and preparations were immediately made to send the first expedition of new missionaries to Micronesia. In April 1921 five Jesuits arrived in Pohnpei: Frs. Luis Herrera and Pedro Castro, and Brs. Victoriano Tudanca, Antonio Garcia, and Paulino Cobo.
The first Jesuit missionary expedition to Micronesia: Spain, 1920
Fr. Herrera and Br. Tudanca reopened the parish in Kolonia, where the amazing complex of buildings constructed by the German Capuchins stood ready to use. Fr. Castro and Br. Cobo went to Kitti, where a few years before a Catholic community only slightly smaller than the one in Kolonia had flourished. The years of absence had taken their toll, especially of the rickety house and church in Kitti, and the new missionaries found that some of their flock had drifted away. Yet, they could only marvel at how well the foundation for the church on Pohnpei had been laid by their predecessors. When the Angelus bell rang, people stopped, reverently made the sign of the cross and said their prayers. At the sight of the priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament through the village to a sick person, Catholics dropped to their knees. Masses on First Fridays were crowded with people who had learned this devotion from the Capuchins, and the priests soon received requests to reorganize the Apostleship of Prayer in their parishes.
The Jesuits found the Catholic communities surprisingly well intact. The tiny group of Catholics on Parem, who had been meeting for the rosary on their own during the past few years, immediately asked Fr. Herrera to begin saying mass monthly at their small chapel. At Nanpihl the sister of the Nanmwarki of Nett, Carmen, had taken charge of the small community; she prepared the children for first communion, taught them their prayers and checked to make sure they were wearing shirts for mass. She also directed the pastor to the infirm and elderly, and had even begun rallying her people to build a larger chapel. Fr. Herrera found a valuable assistant in Luis Kio, son of the English beachcomber Joseph Kehoe, who had taken over major responsibility for the church during the absence of priests, baptizing and giving religious instruction. Luis lived with his family at the edge of the mission land in Kolonia. While his wife acted as sacristan and did the laundry for the missionaries, Luis accompanied Fr. Herrera on all his sick calls and visits to the different parts of his parish, soon becoming the foremost catechist in the northern part of the island.
The Jesuits soon began regular catechism classes for the children. Gathering them each day, the priests–or in their absence, the brothers–instructed them in the mysteries of their faith, often using large posters for this purpose. It was an awkward arrangement, not only because it had to be done through a translator but because the children, who sometimes lived great distances from the mission, would straggle in late throughout the instruction. Schools like those run by the Capuchins would have been preferable, but the Jesuits did not yet have the personnel and the knowledge of the language to open such schools. To provide an inducement for the youngsters to come to Catechism class, the missionaries began raffling off objects that they received from Spain: balls, toy flutes, rosaries, bits of colored cloth, second-hand clothes, or anything else that children (or their parents) might find attractive. These raffles became a regular feature of early Jesuit catechesis and continued for years.
Working largely through the children, the missionaries waged a vigorous campaign to win converts from among the numerous Protestants on the island. One nine-year old Protestant boy from Kitti who had been attending catechism lessons told his parents, when they refused him permission to become a Catholic, that he would not return home until they changed their mind. The parents soon consented to his baptism and in time became Catholics themselves. Another young boy from Sokehs also left home until his father agreed to let him become a Catholic. The result was much the same: the child was instructed by the catechist Luis, received into the church, and soon afterward followed by his entire family. But the outcome of these incidents was not always as happy for the Catholic missionaries. Protestant church leaders reacted strongly to the priests' aggressive campaign for converts, particularly through what they regarded as the stealthy conversion of their children, and feelings grew heated on occasion. The Nahnken of Uh was distraught when he learned that his daughter had become a Catholic, but upon hearing that his son had been secretly baptized despite his own adamant opposition he was furious. When he was told that the priest had somehow persuaded the Nanmwarki of Uh to become a Catholic, his fury could not be contained. The Nahnken succeeded in postponing the baptism each time it was scheduled until the priest forced the issue and called on the two chiefs to demand an explanation. The Nahnken, pushed to the limits of his patience, raged at the priest for his impudence and threatened to take up arms against the Nanmwarki if he ever became a Catholic. The Nanmwarki admitted that he could not become a Catholic under those conditions, and the priest went away disappointed.
In January 1922 three more Jesuits arrived, including Br. Juan Ariceta and Fr. Ramon Lasquibar, both of whom eventually served for many years on Pohnpei, while one of the brothers who had come the previous year was transferred elsewhere. With this the missionary force on the island reached full strength and a third parish was reopened in Awak. For the next 20 years there would be three parishes, with a priest and at least one brother living in each. Fr. Pedro Castro, one of the first arrivals, was transferred to Awak together with Br. Cobo because leg injuries had made it difficult for him to do the walking required in his vast Kitti parish. Fr. Lasquibar, who was already 50 years old and not very spry himself, was assigned to the Kitti parish, where he remained for the next several years. Fr. Herrera, with the help of Br. Juan Ariceta and Br. Tudanca, continued as pastor of Kolonia for two more years.
With the parishes now staffed and functioning, the missionaries turned their eyes to the outer islands, which had been left virtually untouched by the Capuchins. In August 1922 Fr. Herrera and his inseparable catechist Luis took a small copra steamer to Ngatik, bringing with them a handful of Ngatikese who had become Catholics on Pohnpei. Also on board the small steamer were a band of Pohnpeian Protestant pastors who had decided to go to bolster the Ngatikese against the Catholics as soon as they heard of his proposed visit. While Fr. Herrera dispersed his Catholics through the island to preach to any who would listen and to show people the catechetical posters, the Protestant leaders held continual meetings with the people to stiffen their resistance to the new religion. As usual, it was the children who were among the first to be baptized, with a number of adults following in their wake. Medals, scapulars, holy pictures and other Catholic emblems were freely distributed, while the cadre of catechists carried on their instructions with those who showed the slightest interest in Catholicism. By the end of his twelve-day stay on the island, the priest had received about 60 people into the church and plans were being made for building a church on his next visit.
A village church and residence on Pohnpei
Ngatik thereafter became a regular destination for the pastor of Kolonia and yearly visits were made there. Before long there was a flourishing Catholic community of over a hundred. When the priests later made visits to Kapingamarangi to try to make inroads on that island, they found the results disappointing by contrast. A mere dozen or so people were converted on the first visit, although the number of Catholics grew in time to about 60. The priests subsequently did what they could to minister to the Catholics on that island, but decided that future efforts to convert Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro would probably prove futile. Ngatik, meanwhile remained the only outer island in the Pohnpei area that had any sizable Catholic presence.
Meanwhile, Fr. Castro was finding his new parish in Awak more demanding than he had anticipated. Attached to his parish was the sub-station of Tamworoi with its fervent community of about 150 Catholics and the large copra plantation to be cared for. The Catholic population, which had met regularly for rosary and prayers all the while, had fared much better than the plantation, now badly neglected and in need of considerable work. Pigs roamed at will and their owners pleaded that they could do nothing to restrain them. The pastor was forced to evict the families who had built homes on the property and hire a group of workers to clean the land and collect the copra each month. While he divided his time between Awak and Tamworoi, Br. Cobo was at work supervising the construction of thatch buildings that could serve as shelters for the parishioners and classrooms for the catechetical lessons. There were minor setbacks for the missionaries, as when their canoe overturned and a shipment of several boxes of supplies recently arrived from Spain were lost, but the parish was clearly fervent and had rich potential. On the pastor's biweekly visits to Takaiu for mass, the entire small community there turned out and received communion. Mass attendance at Awak itself was impressive and the parish congregations were very active. Although the Nanmwarki of Uh remained a Protestant, there was a steady stream of converts, among them some influential kousapw chiefs. In addition, a 13-year old boy from Awak left Pohnpei in June 1923 to join four young men from other parts of the mission at the minor seminary in Manila. Hardly two years after the arrival of the Jesuits, Paulino Cantero was off to begin preparation for the Jesuit priesthood.
The fortunes of the Awak parish suddenly took a turn for the worse when the church burned to the ground in the summer of 1923; nothing was saved except the Blessed Sacrament. Thereafter mass had to be held in one of the rooms of the Jesuit residence with the congregation standing outside exposed to the sun or rain. As soon as funds could be found, Br. Gojenola, that master craftsman and jack-of-all-trades, was sent to Awak to begin construction of a new church. Meanwhile, however, there were several changes in mission personnel that necessitated a reshuffling of the pastors several times in the next few years. With the departure of Fr. Luis Herrera, the pastor of Kolonia for the previous three years, Fr. Castro was transferred from Awak back to Kitti. The two priests who succeeded him in Awak, Fr. Ramon Suarez and Fr. Jose Pajaro, spent only a short time in Pohnpei between assignments to the Marshalls, and the parish was left without a pastor for over a year. In July 1926 a new arrival to the mission, Fr. Higinio Berganza, was temporarily assigned to the parish just as work on the new church was being completed. The church, situated above a stream, was a magnificent structure for its day with its pseudo-gothic design and its ornate wooden altar rising in three turreted niches, each containing the statue of a saint. The church was the genuine product of community labor; while many of the men in the parish sawed lumber and hammered nails, some of the more skilled local artisans were responsible for doing the doors, the baptismal font and other finer detail.
Awak church and school
Finally, on December 8, 1926, the new church was solemnly consecrated. Santiago Lopez de Rego, who was made bishop of the vicariate two years earlier, made his first episcopal visit to Pohnpei in time to bless the church. Arriving by boat from Tamworoi, the next to last stop on his tour of the mission stations around the island, Bishop Rego was led under a pallium made from a tablecloth (for lack of anything else) through a triumphal arch decorated with bunting and garlands. The solemn mass of dedication, attended by hundreds of people and nearly all the Jesuits on the island, was followed by confirmations and baptisms. The feasting continued for two days afterwards. The only thing that was missing, Br. Cobo wrote, was a cast iron bell, which in due course of time arrived by ship and was carefully transported to Awak, where its installation was the occasion for a new celebration.
Within a few months of the completion of the Awak church, Fr. Berganza was reassigned to the Kolonia Parish where he served as a pastor for the next nine years. There he faced a problem that had vexed the Jesuits from the very beginning. What could be done to provide the solid formation that Pohnpeians needed if the faith was to take deeper root in their hearts, particularly in view of the weight of the cultural influences that seemed to be opposed to Catholic teachings? Ordinarily the Jesuits would have opened schools, as the Capuchins had done, in order to provide more intensive training for at least some of the children in the hope that they would become dedicated parents, if not catechists, and serve as models of good Christian living. Under the Japanese, however, schools were a practical impossibility. The government jealously reserved to itself the right to educate the young, and all instruction had to be done in the Japanese language in any case. Classes in the public school began at eight each morning and ended at one in the afternoon, after which students started the long walk home on empty stomachs. Under such circumstances it was asking too much of the tired and hungry children to gather them for catechism class during the afternoon, as the missionaries found out when they experimented with this for a while. The only solution was to establish dormitories for as many students as space and funds would permit, provide meals for these boarders, and set up a supplementary course of instruction that might furnish them with some useful skills and nourish a deep commitment to their faith.
Br. Burzaco had already set up a small dormitory for boys in two empty rooms in the rectory, but quarters were cramped and no more than a dozen could be accommodated. There was still no such facility for girls, although they too attended the public school in almost equal numbers. The Jesuits had long dreamed of having sisters working on the island to open a girls' dormitory. Hence the announcement that the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz were willing to send sisters to Pohnpei for this purpose was greeted with great enthusiasm. The large casa de piedra, or "house of stone," as it was called–the building that once served as the German sisters' convent–was prepared for their use as a residence and girls dormitory. In November 1928, the four Mercedarian sisters assigned to Pohnpei arrived with Mother Margarita Maturana, the Superior General of the Order. Their reception was similar to the one Pohnpeian Catholics gave to the German Franciscan sisters 20 years before: there was the procession from the wharf, the sung Te Deum in church, the speeches of welcome and the inevitable feasting. The reception was well deserved, for two of the four sisters, Sr. Concepcion and Sr. Belen, would serve in Pohnpei for over 30 years, and the new religious order would continue its work with distinction up to the very present.
Mercedarian Sisters with girls on a picnic
The new boarding school opened almost immediately with 20 girls. The sisters began instruction in academic subjects as well as what we would today called home economics: cooking, washing, ironing, making bread and even stitching shoes. The girls also cared for the chickens and pigs, cleared the land and farmed, and in moments of leisure made attempts at playing the piano. They also learned their catechism, attended rosary and mass daily, and imbibed deeply of the piety and discipline of their spiritual mothers. When the renovations on the stone house were finally completed, the number of boarders increased to 50 or 60.
For others in the parish who did not receive such intense formation, there were a number of active congregations, some of them carry-overs from German times, over and above the usual parish devotions: mass, rosary, benediction and occasional processions on the more solemn feast days. For young boys there were the Luistas and the Estanislaoistas, the congregations dedicated to St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Stanislaus, the Jesuit patrons of youth. Any boy could join the Congregation of St. Stanislaus providing he attended mass weekly, received communion twice a month, showed up for daily catechism class, and tried to lead a decent life. Members had the distinction of wearing around their necks large medals attached to wide blue ribbons. The Jesuit brothers moderated these congregations, meeting with members monthly to give them a homily on the importance of a good Christian life.
Congregation of San Luis gathered near the church in Kolonia
Kitti, which had always been isolated from the rest of the mission by virtue of its remoteness, remained something of a backwater area during these years. Fr. Lasquibar, aging and increasingly infirm, lived at Wene with Br. Aguinaco to assist him. Despite his years, the pastor performed his regular parish duties and held religious instructions for the ten or 15 children he could muster each afternoon when the public school let out. Fr. Lasquibar was a recluse who almost never wrote to friends and family in Spain and seldom visited Kolonia. A Jesuit visitor to his parish remarked that he had taken on an ascetical appearance. He ate and drank very little, and he dressed in "threadbare habits that were held together with cord and looked like a pin-cushion more than anything else." He covered surprising distances for a man his age, leaning on an oversized staff and looking like the fabled pilgrim of Compostela. His people quaked when the priest started in on one of the fiery denunciations for which he was famous, but were relieved when the target of his polemic turned out to be Buddha, Confucius or Martin Luther rather than their own wickedness. For over 15 years this awesome priest presided over the Kitti parish.
An Environment Grown Hostile
Life on Pohnpei was changing perceptibly as the 1930s began, and not all of the changes were blessings in the eyes of the missionaries. For one thing, hundreds of Japanese colonists were streaming into Pohnpei to fish or work as laborers on the farms that the government was setting up in its efforts to boost commercial productivity. With the increasing number of Japanese and Okinawans, the government was making even stronger moves to Japanize the people through the schools and the other means at their disposal. The missionaries felt that the main concern of the government was becoming less the welfare of the island people than the advancement of Japanese social and economic interests. Then there was the growing number of jobs for Pohnpeians and the consequent boost in affluence, bringing with it the dangers of materialism and neglect of religion. Although the missionaries remained on friendly terms with the Japanese governor and his staff, they felt increasingly helpless in the face of the tide that they saw engulfing their people
Despite the missionaries' fears, conversions continued throughout the early 1930s, and the number of Catholics in Pohnpei grew from 1,400 in 1921 to about 3,000 by 1934. There were even a few Japanese converts such as a woman teaching in the Kolonia government school who became a Catholic after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa that someone put in her hands. One of the priests thought that all this was owing to the missionaries' dedication to visiting the sick and dying, something that he felt had made a favorable impression on Protestants on the island. Yet it was the Pohnpeians themselves who were often the main instruments of conversion, as had been true from the very beginning. The wife of the catechist Luis Kiho, for example, had instructed a girl from Kapingamarangi in the faith, and she in turn converted several others in her family. It was not only the children who were leading their parents to the faith, but the catechists and devout adults who were bringing others to Catholicism.
The Jesuits, in the meantime, were beginning to show the effects of their rigorous years on the island. Br. Burzaco, who had founded and run the small boys dormitory in Kolonia, was the first to die in late 1932. Fr. Dionisio de la Fuente, formerly working on Saipan, had come to Pohnpei to recoup his strength but suffered a severe stroke and finally died the same year. Two years later Fr. Jose Pajaro, who had worked on Pohnpei intermittently for a total of three years, also succumbed to illness as he was returning by ship from the Marshalls, and he was buried on the island. Meanwhile, Br. Juan Ariceta was transferred from Pohnpei to work at the Procurator's office in Tokyo. But there were new arrivals as well during these years. Br. Juan Belinchon and Br. Agustin Aguinaco came during the late 1920s to join the Pohnpei mission staff. Br. Belinchon was stationed in Awak to help Fr. Castro, who had once again begun serving as pastor there since Fr. Berganza's transfer to Kolonia in 1927. Two new Mercedarians were also added to the staff of the girls' school in 1930, one of them replacing Sr. Serapia, who left Pohnpei the same year.
Br. Paulino Cobo: 50 years on Pohnpei
Br. Cobo was sent to Kolonia to take over the running of the boys' dormitory following the death of Br. Burzaco, and there he remained for the next 40 years, becoming a legendary figure in the course of time. Bishop Rego at first wanted to close the dormitory due to lack of funds, but Fr. Berganza insisted that, as small as it was, it was needed to counteract the pernicious influences of the public school and the materialism that was creeping over the island. He would have liked to have built a larger dormitory, especially since the Mercedarians were ready to expand their enrollment to 50, but the mission did not have the 20,000 pesos that it would cost to put up a new building and support the additional boarders for a year. Each day Br. Cobo herded the boys to the church for early mass, prepared their breakfast, and saw them off to the public school. At their return in the early afternoon, he again fed them, spent time tutoring them in their lessons, and then supervised their work on the farm, where they raised a variety of fruits and vegetables and cared for the chickens, pigs, goats and even calves that furnished most of the meat for themselves and the missionaries. Afterwards the boys ate supper, attended catechism class given by the pastor, and studied their Japanese calligraphy before retiring for the night. Always for the generations of young boys with whom he worked, Br. Cobo was a combination of father, teacher and counselor.
The Mercedarians, in the meantime, were making improvements in their girls' boarding school. Sr. Francisca Mendizabal, who spent 40 years working on Pohnpei, took charge of the vocational program in cooking, sewing, farming and poultry raising. Sr. Ines Goitisolo, who served for more than 30 years on the island, was principal of the school and took charge of the boarding students, entertaining them each evening with captivating religious stories. It was these sisters and their companions who provided the education that later blossomed into the Pwihnen Mercedes, one of the most active woman's groups in Pohnpei.
Besides the normal work in the three main parishes, the Jesuits were beginning to develop some of the smaller stations on the island. Tamworoi, which had long been the neglected step-sister of the parishes due to the small size of Catholic population there, was now receiving new attention. Fr. Castro, who cared for Awak along with Tamworoi, was now spending much of his time in Madolenihmw building a new wooden church for his small congregation. He also was building up the sub-communities in Iputak and Metipw, places in which mass was sometimes celebrated. Perhaps one reason for the recognition that Tamworoi was again receiving from the missionaries was that the Jesuit brothers were spending more time there in an effort to increase the output of the copra plantation, since mission expenses were rising while assistance from Spain, now on the threshold of its civil war, was diminishing. The small wooden church, nicely painted and furnished with an ornate altar built by Br. Gojenola, was dedicated in May 1935 in a ceremony that drew many Protestants as well as Catholics. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, the growing Catholic community in Seinwar was collecting money to build a chapel of its own. Because of the infirmity of Fr. Lasquibar, still pastor of Kitti though now in his late 1960s, the Kolonia parish assumed temporary responsibility for Seinwar.
In late 1935, Fr. Berganza, who for nine years had been pastor of Kolonia, was named the new Jesuit mission superior. Although he would continue to make his permanent residence in Pohnpei, his new position required him to spend much of the time traveling and he would for all practical purposes be lost to Pohnpei in the future. Since the Jesuits had still not resolved the question of how to handle the Marshalls, which had been without a priest for years, Fr. Berganza would visit that group once or twice a year to provide the sacraments for the small Catholic community there. Replacing him as pastor of Kolonia was Fr. Quirino Fernandez, who had just arrived in Pohnpei after spending several months helping out in the Mortlocks. The Catholics of Kolonia turned out in large numbers for confession and mass on the day of Fr. Berganza's departure, and the priest was so besieged with well-wishers that he had to struggle to get away to the dock. From shipboard he blessed his congregation as the vessel slipped away from the pier to take him to Saipan. His replacement immediately set about making plans for the physical improvement of the parish. The Kolonia church was painted, new side altars built by Pohnpeian carpenters were installed, and a large crucifix was hung over the main altar. Br. Fernando Hernandez, newly assigned to Pohnpei, assisted with these repairs and took over the operation of the sawmill, although much of the finer carpentry work was done by Luis Amor and Isidro Torres, two protegees of old Br. Gojenola who did this sort of work in several other places on the island. A beautiful stone statue of Christ the King, long awaited by the people of the parish, was set up in the refinished church.
Fr. Berganza in later years with Br. Juan Ariceta
Fr. Quirino had other plans as well. He was soon writing to Spain for money with which to construct the new boys' dormitory that the missionaries had long wanted to put up, for the number of boarders had now grown to about 20. The new pastor also envisioned setting up inexpensive shelters that could serve as sleeping quarters when Pohnpeians came into Kolonia either for mass on feast days or for medical attention at the Japanese hospital. This would do more than provide for the convenience of Catholic families; it would bring them within the ambience of the mission, both as a protection against the allurements of the town and an opportunity for close contact with the church personnel. These projects were never realized, however, for the threat of war hung ever more heavily over the islands.
Fr. Gregorio Fernandez (no relation of Fr. Quirino) was transferred from Chuuk to Pohnpei in 1936 to replace Fr. Castro, who was finally forced to leave the mission because of poor health. Fr. Gregorio was made pastor of Kitti so that the ailing Fr. Lasquibar could be given the easier parish of Awak. Within a few months, however, Fr. Lasquibar was back in his old home of the past 17 years, while Fr. Gregorio was sent off to Tokyo to learn Japanese. Seeing the gradual deterioration of their relations with the Japanese government as the Japanese intensified their efforts to Japanize the islands, the missionaries had for some time requested that a few Japanese priests be assigned to work with them. Since there were none to be spared, the Jesuits thought the next best thing was to send some of their own men to Japan to become thoroughly familiar with that Language and perhaps in that way better equipped to deal with government officials for the benefit of their people. Due to the press of events and the critical needs in Pohnpei, however, Fr. Gregorio returned to Pohnpei in less than a year and resumed the pastorship of Kitti.
Conditions on Pohnpei had become still bleaker by 1939. The churches were still full, to be sure, and there were over 600 communions at the Easter Sunday mass in Kolonia. The number of Catholics, at least in the baptismal registers, had reached 3,600, and they were now a slight majority on an island that had once been almost entirely Protestant. Yet the environment on Pohnpei was becoming increasingly hostile to Catholic practice. While Japanese authorities imposed no restrictions on the missionaries at this point, they no longer smiled as tolerantly on what they regarded as a European religion. Moreover, they had begun to organize all able-bodied Pohnpeians into labor brigades, and there was simply no time for people to attend religious instruction, meetings of the parish congregations, or even daily services. The pressure of the grinding work was begin to show: women were going into hysterical fits, while men were taking advantage of the relaxation of the prohibition on alcohol and getting drunk. It had been difficult enough before to provide the deeper kind of formation that Christians needed; the missionaries knew that it would be all the harder in the future.
Yet there were consoling moments as well. Three more Mercedarian sisters arrived in the mission, even as war was breaking out in Europe, and each of them would dedicate 25 years or longer to the church of Pohnpei. The catechism and book of devotions written by Fr. Berganza was printed in Spain and ready for distribution. The alumnae of the Mercedarian school, the Pwihnen Mercedes, had an initial successful reunion with a dry goods sale, a catechism contest for children and a party that featured nothing less than piano recitals. Even the death of the Nanmwarki of Nett, a Catholic since the time of the Spanish Capuchins and an exemplary Christian, was an opportunity for the Catholics to recall the edification that he had given in word and example for more than a half century. He was forever reminding his people of their responsibilities to God and had even publicly reproved his own sons for neglecting their religious duties. Then, too, lay leaders were emerging in greater number; Jose from Dolonier was rallying the people in that part of the parish, while the Mortlockese parts of Sokehs had organizers of their own. Enthusiasm reached its height when, in July 1940, the news reached Pohnpei that one of its own sons, Paulino Cantero, had been ordained a Jesuit priest in Spain.
When Japanese authorities on the island announced plans for a grand celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Japanese empire, the missionaries wondered whether the event could not be turned into an occasion for deepening the faith of their people even as they showed their support for the government. Fr. Quirino approached the authorities, who granted his request although they did not allow the Catholic laborers a day off to attend. In July 1940, in an unusual marriage of rites, a solemn mass was held in honor of St. Francis Xavier, patron of the Orient, followed by a procession through the town. Both the Te Deum and the Japanese anthem, Kimigayo, were sung; a Japanese government official delivered a short talk on the empire; and the celebration ended with the traditional triple banzai to the Emperor.
Preparations for the war intensified. Fr. Berganza had gone to Tokyo in August 1939 to learn Japanese, but as the situation deteriorated he applied for passage back to Pohnpei. His request was refused and he was obliged to spend the war years in Japan cut off from all communication with his fellow missionaries. His isolation was all the more serious a blow since he had been appointed apostolic administrator of the vicariate following Bishop Rego's return to Spain in 1938.
By early 1941 the first of the 10,000 Japanese troops stationed in Pohnpei arrived, and their military commander formally requested of the local Jesuit superior, then Fr. Quirino Fernandez, the use of the Kolonia church to quarter some of the troops. Fr. Quirino pleaded that he did not have the authority to grant this request and would first have to contact higher ecclesiastical authorities, but the commander insisted and the church was appropriated by the military in May. When the Jesuits made some alterations on the school building so that mass could be held there, the government countered with the order that public gathering were forbidden. The people came to services anyway, even when the government attempted to schedule work details and other activities at the time of Sunday mass. Finally the Japanese authorities summoned the missionaries and told them that in the future there was to be public mass only twice a month. Accordingly, the priests announced that all Catholics were dispensed from their usual obligation, but they added that masses would be held at the usual time just the same. The church was as filled as before. When the military police began guarding the roads leading to the mission property, the people cut paths through the woods and came around the rear of the church. Then one Sunday the military police made a raid on the mission. As they drove up the main road, young men scampered out of the windows of the church and ran for the woods while the women hid in the banana groves in the back. By the time the commanding officer entered the church, he found only four old women, all of them blind, deaf or crippled. When the car carrying the police was well out of sight and word was passed that they would not return, the people emerged from their hiding places and mass was begun.
The Japanese military clearly viewed the church as a rival for the full allegiance of the people and would have been happy to see it cease functioning altogether. The civil governor, however, who had always been on cordial terms with the missionaries, represented their interests before the military authorities. Had it not been for his assistance, the church might have been much more harshly dealt with than was actually the case. With the prospect of a continuing struggle with Japanese military authorities before them, the Jesuits and Mercedarians agreed to relocate their residence in Tamworoi. There for some months they held school for their boarding students and whatever other children might be able to attend. Sunday mass drew many of the people from that area, but Catholics from other parts of the island no longer had time to travel long distances, even on Sundays, because of government work obligations. The relocation might keep the missionaries out of trouble with the authorities, but they would never be able to reach their people so far removed from the population center.
Spanish-built schoolhouse in Kolonia
In December 1942 the Kolonia church was returned to the missionaries disordered and slightly damaged but generally intact. As they resettled in their old quarters and prepared the church for use once again, the missionaries acquired the services of a new catechist sent from Tokyo by Fr. Berganza. He was Miguel Kimura, a full-blooded Japanese who could offer invaluable services as a translator and an intermediary with Japanese military officials. Two months earlier, the Mercedarian community welcomed three sisters from Chuuk and a young Chuukese girl by the name of Perpetua Hallers who hoped to enter religious life. They had come because it was felt that Pohnpei would be safer than Chuuk for the duration of the war; the ship that they arrived on was sunk on its return to Chuuk. Less than a year later two Jesuit brothers working in Chuuk were also sent to Pohnpei for the same reason.
Meanwhile, the priests made an attempt to cover as much of the island as possible for mass and confessions, while organizing a plan for religious instruction to be carried out by lay leaders in each section. Some of these lay catechists did work that was nothing short of heroic. Silvester Panuelo, one of the catechists, was teaching a group of children one day when a Japanese soldier appeared, accused him of being a spy, slapped him in the face and threatened him with his life if he continued holding class. When the pastor arrived a few days later to check on the situation, he found the catechist once again teaching religion to the children. Silvester dismissed the danger with a smile and an expression of his confidence that God would take care of him and the children.
When new shipments of army troops arrived in late 1943, the Japanese military command again took over the Kolonia church, this time for use as a storage depot rather than a barracks. The mission personnel and their lay helpers stayed on the mission premises, even when the Japanese military commandeered the other mission buildings one by one until there were over 500 soldiers quartered on the mission grounds. When several American reconnaissance planes were spotted in early 1944, however, the missionaries decided that it was too risky to remain in Kolonia. Half of the Mercedarians had already moved to Awak some months before, and the Jesuits assigned to Awak and Tamworoi were already living in their parishes. Those who had been living in Kolonia up to this time moved inland to Dolekai living in houses that were offered them by the people of this area. As the bombings began, they moved again still deeper into the woods. No sooner had they finished their makeshift houses than the military police informed the missionaries that they would have to relocate once more, this time in Erika. Here the Jesuits and Mercedarians assembled people for clandestine religious instruction and services, most of which were held under the open sky, and carried on whatever apostolate they could from their forest recess. Within two months, however, the military police were back with instructions for the missionaries to move their quarters yet again. This time the military assigned the location: a clearing on the ridge of Mt. Sankaku not more than a few yards from the government headquarters and close to an anti-aircraft gun. The home designated for them by the military was a prime target for American planes.
The Japanese authorities also ordered that the missionaries still living in other mission residences around the island be summoned to join them in their new location. It might have been difficult to persuade the priests to abandon their parishes had it not been for the intense American bombing raids that occurred at about this time. Tamworoi was strafed for two days straight, and the rectory at Awak was demolished by an incendiary bomb that fell only minutes before Fr. Lasquibar would have retired for the night. As it was, the Jesuits obediently left their parishes and trudged up Mt. Sankaku barefoot and with empty stomachs to join their colleagues.
Spanish brothers on Pohnpei after the war: Seated: Br. Belinchon, Br. Gojenola, and Br. Cobo; Standing: Br. Oroquieta, and Br. Ariceta
The days passed slowly for the missionaries, for they were forbidden to hold public mass or carry on the other usual forms of apostolic ministry. They could only visit the sick, providing they had obtained prior permission from the Japanese authorities. This they did, always accompanied by their Japanese catechist in the event that they should encounter any military on patrol. Sometimes they also took advantage of the occasion to say mass for the people of a distant kousapw, but always with men posted to watch for the military police. Pohnpeians brought food to the missionaries, but the latter had their own means of support as well. Although the Jesuits had to abandon most of their livestock when they moved inland, the brothers cultivated a garden not far from the ramshackle houses. Their most coveted crop was tobacco, for shipping from the outside world had been effectively cut off by that time and cigarettes were a precious commodity on the island. Small gifts of tobacco could easily be parlayed into potatoes, fresh fish or any number of other essential kinds of food. The only thing that the missionaries could not provide was the flour needed to make hosts; they were suffering from such an acute shortage of hosts that they had to stop saying mass on weekdays to conserve their small remaining supply. The flour that they had ordered for this purpose the year before had gone to the bottom with the Japanese freighter on which it was being transported, the victim of an American submarine.
To bolster the religious fervor of their people, the Jesuits decided to hold a solemn Christmas Eve mass, notwithstanding the Japanese prohibition of public masses. An elegant little dinner prepared for a bonze who was also a high-ranking officer, and gifts of tobacco to several of the troops and their officers forestalled any objections on the part of the military. Word was sent out to the surrounding areas inviting all Pohnpeians to the celebration, and the few remaining hosts were broken into infinitesimal pieces. A clearing was prepared in back of the houses, and branches were strewn around to provide seating for the congregation. Then on Christmas Eve 1944, in the presence of a Japanese bonze who asked to be allowed to watch, a congregation of 400 Pohnpeians sang "Silent Night" in their own language to begin the solemn mass. Over 40 children made their first communion that evening, and the celebrant, Fr. Quirino, was so moved by the spectacle that he could barely speak when it came time for his homily. In a world at war, this celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace was a consoling foretaste of the peace and joy that Christians hoped would soon be theirs.
When the war ended in August 1945, it was weeks before a public announcement was made and still longer before the American forces finally landed at Pohnpei. By the time they appeared in mid-September, Br. Hernandez had fallen gravely ill and was given the last sacraments. The two American doctors who were brought from the ship to attend to him could do nothing for him, and he died two days later. The missionaries received emergency rations from the American commander, himself a Catholic, and permission was granted for a public celebration in honor of the end of the war. A few weeks later, at the site chosen for the American government headquarters, another solemn mass was sung, this one in honor of the Sacred Heart in thanksgiving for peace. A large platform in the open had to be constructed for the altar since there was no building large enough to contain the massive congregation: Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, in tattered clothes, all that remained of their possessions; the different Catholic congregations arranged in groups; hundreds of U.S. naval enlisted men and their officers in dress whites; the island chiefs, grateful for their lives and eager to see how the Americans would rule; and the missionary priests, brothers and sisters, who were already making plans to rebuild what had been lost.
Rebuilding the Church
The Catholic Church, like the government and many of the families on the island, faced the problem of major reconstruction after war. The magnificent Kolonia church, once the pride of the mission, lay in ruins with only its belltower and a small part of the dome standing. The convent, the rectory, the worksheds and sawmill, and the other houses on the mission property were nothing but rubble. Even the old church cemetery had been stripped of the stone wall and iron grating that once enclosed it. The mission stations in other parts of the island had suffered much less damage, but some of these were still badly in need of replacement. The Jesuit brothers in the mission who normally would have been charged with the job of rebuilding were either dead or too feeble to perform this work any longer. Br. Fernando Hernandez had died in 1945, and Br. Aniceto Arizaleta, who had spent nearly 20 years putting up churches throughout the Mortlocks before his transfer to Pohnpei during the war, died the following year. Br. Gojenola, the man who had built just about every altar on Pohnpei and many of the churches besides, was now crippled with rheumatism and confined to his room.
Most of the Spanish priests were still relatively young with several years of good service in Pohnpei ahead of them, and they resumed their parish work as soon as possible at the close of the war. The schools were another matter, however. Within two months of the American landing on Pohnpei, the missionaries were running a day school in Kolonia for 250 students, and they wrote that they could have easily enrolled 500 if they had the space for the extra students. As it was, classes were being taught in what remained of the former sisters convent: a shell of a building, over which a roof had been thrown up, without doors, windows or any furniture. At last they had the freedom to do the education they had always yearned to do, but they also understood that they could not be effective unless they were able to teach English. Within a few weeks of the school's opening they were frantically appealing to Spain for more personnel: priests fluent in English who could run the school and deal with the new American administration on Pohnpei. The Americans welcomed parochial education, but they preferred it done in their own language.
Like past colonial powers in Micronesia, the U.S. was wary of allowing any foreigners other than its own nationals to live and work in the island territory. For a time it seemed that the U.S. government might expel the Spanish Jesuits and Mercedarians on Pohnpei, but in the end it softened its position and allowed them to remain. The government did, however, require that the superior on each island be an American rather than a Spaniard. So the Caroline and Marshall Islands, now separated from the Marianas, were entrusted to the American Jesuits in 1946 and to the New York Province specifically a year later. In January 1946 Fr. Vincent Kennally, the newly appointed apostolic administrator of the vicariate, visited Pohnpei in the company of Fr. Berganza, the former administrator and involuntary exile from the island for the past six years. Perhaps nothing symbolized the transition from Spanish to American Jesuits so much as this visit. At the end of the week, Fr. Kennally continued his inspection tour of the islands before returning to the U.S. to recruit volunteers for the new mission, while Fr. Berganza soon afterwards took up parish life on Pohnpei once again. Church leadership may have changed hands, but the Spanish missionaries would provide the bulk of the workforce for years yet.
A year later, in September 1947, the first of the American Jesuits, Fr. Hugh Costigan, arrived at Pohnpei and was immediately made local superior. Although not trained in the building trades, he had been forewarned what he could expect when he reached Pohnpei and what his future work might entail. Surveying the dismal assortment of buildings thrown up of salvaged material, all that was available after war, the priest set out to work rebuilding the ruined mission in Kolonia. The first building completed was the school, an interim structure even though a vast improvement on what had existed. Work was then begun on a new church to replace the temporary wood and thatch building that had served the parish since the end of the war. In the meantime, plans were made for a new convent for the sisters and a dormitory for the girls, both of which have since been renovated.
The mission personnel on Pohnpei at this time were unanimous in their decision to invest heavily of their time and resources in school work. Here was a chance to educate the next generation of Pohnpeians, not a few dozen children any longer, but hundreds of them since everyone seemed eager to get an education. Fr. Berganza, again pastor of Kolonia, had responsibility for the parish school, which now had an enrollment of over 300, and the Mercedarian sisters made up the teaching staff. Br. Cobo reopened his dormitory for students who came from more distant areas, while the Mercedarians began a similar boarding facility for 50 girls. The school, now called Our Lady of Mercy, went as far as the 6th grade and had mechanics and carpentry shops that were the envy of the public schools of the day. An American couple, Dick and Kay Finn, came to Pohnpei in 1948 as lay volunteers to teach in the school and to offer courses in the government intermediate school. The dormitories were especially valuable since they took in some older students attending the intermediate school, and so extended the length of time during which girls and boys remained under the direct influence of the mission. It was some of these students, boarders at the mission, who afterwards returned to become the first Pohnpeian teachers at the Catholic schools.
The church's educational work soon expanded to other parts of the island as well. By 1950 Fr. Costigan had built another school at Awak, along with the living quarters for the three Mercedarian sisters who taught in it. Within two more years there was a new school in Wene, later to be staffed by Mercedarians, and another in Seinwar. By 1953 there were four mission schools on the island and a total enrollment of nearly 500 students.
Boarding girls at work in the school garden
The commitment of the Mercedarian sisters to schools for 20 years was beginning to bear fruit. Even before the war several girls from different parts of Micronesia had expressed a desire to enter religious life. In 1947 the Mercedarians began a formal program for aspirants, postulants and novices on Pohnpei and a building program for facilities was started in the following years. The first group of five girls who professed their vows in 1949 included one Pohnpeian, Sr. Rita Amor, the first sister from that island. There were 12 more postulants living with the sisters at that time, and that number would grow to almost 30 within ten years. Yet it was a couple of years later before the large two-story building to house the girls was completed.
Religious procession from the Kolonia church
The Jesuits too had turned up some candidates for the Society. In 1949 two young men, both former boarding students at the Kolonia school, left for the seminary in Manila to begin training for the brotherhood; they joined three other Pohnpeians who had set out the year before to become priests. No doubt much of the new wave of interest in religious vocations could be attributed to the return of Fr. Paulino Cantero, the first Micronesian priest, in March 1948. He had been away for 25 years, and his homecoming was cause for an island-wide celebration. There were 1,500 Pohnpeians at the dock to greet him when he arrived. On the day before the feast of St. Joseph, the patron of his parish, Fr. Cantero rode into Awak in an open jeep to the cheers and songs of his people. There was a triumphal note to the speeches given at the kamadipw that afternoon and after the solemn mass the next day. Pohnpei now had its own priest, despite the lengthy and rigorous period of training required for the priesthood. To ensure that this lesson was not lost on other young Micronesians considering a vocation, Fr. Cantero was sent around to the other island groups in the mission during subsequent years.
The religious fervor that swept the island after the war had not died down yet and parish life was at a peak during these years. Mass attendance was impressive and devotions such as the daily rosary were well attended. The parish congregations flourished, especially the mwahnakapw founded by Fr. Quirino to help nurture the devotion of young men. One island-wide meeting in Kitti drew so many people that mass had to be celebrated in the open air to accommodate the crowd. The Spanish priests also resumed their preached retreats to parish groups around the island, an important ministry that had to be abandoned during the war and the years of reorganization immediately afterwards. Pohnpei, like Chuuk, had a distinct advantage over the other parts of the mission that enabled it to capitalize on the people's religious hunger after the deprivations of the war years. It had a sizeable core of veteran Spanish religious, not to mention its own Pohnpeian priest, who already knew the language and had accumulated a wealth of experience in island ways. As a result, the Pohnpeian church was able to resume its normal life much more quickly and with fewer problems than the churches elsewhere in the mission.
The church on Pohnpei could soon turn to the important task of training lay leaders. The first and most obvious need here was for some program to assist the many young Pohnpeian Catholics who were now teaching in the mission schools around the island. By the early 1950s the priests and sisters were sponsoring a teachers' institute that brought together teachers from all the mission schools during the Christmas holidays and summer vacation to broaden their knowledge, sharpen their teaching skills, and deepen their piety. There was also a formation program for Pohnpeian catechists in the villages, the first program of its kind in the vicariate. The Kolonia mission school also offered to the general community occasional adult education courses in basic English and math as well as carpentry, mechanics and some of the other trades.
The Spanish Jesuits continued to bear the brunt of the pastoral work on Pohnpei in the early 1950s, for the influx of new American Jesuits was very slow. Fr. John Nicholson, the second American priest assigned to Pohnpei, arrived in 1949 and immediately took charge of the Kitti parish in place of Fr. Quirino, who was on furlough in the U.S. to learn English. Meanwhile, Fr. Lasquibar and Br. Aquinaco, both of them old and sick, left the mission to return to Spain. It was not until 1956 that the next American Jesuits were assigned: Fr. William Farrell and Br. William Condon. Fr. Farrell replaced Fr. Nicholson as Jesuit local superior after the latter had served a year or two, and he in turn was replaced by Fr. George McGowan after a single year. Another new arrival at this time was Br. Jesus Rodriquez, one of the Pohnpeians who had gone off to the Jesuit novitiate in Manila a few years earlier and who had returned to work for a while on his home island. Three Spanish Mercedarian sisters, including Sr. Bertha Salazar, were also stationed in Pohnpei in 1951 to help with the administration of the schools and to direct a formation program for young girls entering religious life
The three-story convent on Pohnpei: tallest building on the island at the time
The new personnel, few as they were, made it possible for the church to do further building and expansion. During Fr. Nicholson's few years in Wene, he set up a sawmill to provide the lumber needed for rebuilding the dilapidated church and residence that had been built by Fr. Quirino as "temporary" structures, buildings intended for five years that had now been standing for about 25. Before his transfer to Seinwar in 1956, Fr. Nicholson replaced the church and rectory and put up a school and a convent for the Mercedarians who would soon come to teach there. Fr. Costigan was transferred in 1954 to Tamworoi, where in addition to serving as pastor he could pursue the agricultural projects in which he had become interested. In the meantime, Br. Condon took over the supervision of the construction work that Fr. Costigan had directed for the past nine years. The new Kolonia church, a large building even if not as imposing as the old German cathedral, had already been completed and was dedicated in December 1953. With the girls dormitory and the aspirants house also finished, Br. Condon began work on the new school, the sisters convent and the rectory.
Mercedarian Sisters welcome girls to the formation house
While Fr. Berganza continued to serve as pastor of Kolonia, Fr. Cantero, who had worked with him in Kolonia for a few years, was reassigned in 1952 as pastor of Awak, his home parish. But his work involved much more than simply pastoral duties. His fluency in several languages made him the obvious choice to do much of the translation work for the mission and government as well. Since he was the only local priest, he also was picked to do some occasional troubleshooting, as when he spent three months on Kapingamarangi to placate the island chief, who had begun to persecute the Catholics there. With Fr. Quirino back in Wene as pastor and Fr. Nicholson at Seinwar, there were now four mission stations staffed by resident priests, while Fr. Gregorio served as general assistant and itinerant preacher of sorts. It had been years since Pohnpei was as well staffed as it was in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the Mercedarian sisters had small communities in Awak and Wene, where they were teaching in the parish schools, as well as their large school and flourishing formation program, now with nearly 30 girls, in Kolonia. In addition to this, new chapels were springing up in such places as Palikir, Ipwtek and Metipw.
Yet even as this expansion was taking place, the post-war religious enthusiasm was beginning to wane. The pastors noticed that the mass attendance was falling off and the number of communions was decreasing. The Spanish priests ascribed much of this to the old problem: the negative influence that what they saw as the pagan environment of the Pohnpeian family was asserting on even good Christians. Moreover, there were questionable new features of life that the American administration had introduced to the island, especially the Kolonia area; they included movies, dancing and gambling. The older priests, who were now beginning to notice the less laudable side of the American government, had their old fears of modernization and its corrupting influences reawakened by what they saw. Their response to the dangers of the 1950s was to redouble their efforts in the spiritual ministries and to make a direct appeal to people's conscience. The American priests, however, felt that a direct assault on objectionable customs was very likely futile; they proposed using other, indirect means to change people's behavior. If they could first improve the quality of life and the standard of living among island people, they would in this very way be improving the social environment of their Christians. In other words, the way to a man's soul was through his diet, housing and income.
Fr. Costigan, now pastor of Tamworoi, had ample opportunity to concentrate on the economic and social development programs that were among his dominant concerns from the beginning. First he set about cleaning up and replanting the old coconut plantation that the mission had long owned. Soon he began planting cacao, a cash crop that gave promise of becoming a good supplement to copra as a means of livelihood for Pohnpeians. By 1957 he had a plantation of 10,000 cacao trees and was distributing seedlings to people throughout the area. He also set up an animal farm that served as a model and training center for people from Madolenihmw. Next he began planning for a full-fledged agricultural institute that would supply formal instruction in agricultural methods and animal husbandry to Pohnpeians from all around the island. Even as he did so, he noticed the need for persons skilled in mechanics to repair and maintain the modern farm equipment and the boats and trucks that would be required to haul the produce to markets. Successful agriculture demanded good mechanics, still in short supply on the island. Finally, there was the problem of inadequate housing for Pohnpeians, something that he attempted to correct by establishing the first housing cooperative on the island. In the course of a few years in Madolenihmw, his vision of an agricultural institute had expanded in scope to embrace mechanics and construction as well. This was the seed from which PATS would grow in coming years.
Fr. Costigan teaching construction to a PATS class in the 1960s
These were transitional years for the Pohnpei mission. Fr. Gregorio Fernandez left Pohnpei in 1957, and Br. Belinchon departed a few years later. In 1960 two more of the older missionaries died: Br. Gojenola on his sickbed in Kolonia after 36 years on the island, and Fr. Quirino when he was thrown out of his boat and drowned on his way to say mass at a distant part of his parish. Prior to the transfer of Br. Juan Ariceta to Pohnpei in 1965, there were only two Spanish Jesuits left on Pohnpei: Fr. Berganza, still carrying on normal parish duties, and Br. Cobo, who ran the boarding school as he had for the past 30 years. The transfer of Fr. Nicholson to Chuuk in 1959 and the departure of Br. Jesus Rodriquez further reduced the size of the Jesuit staff. A loss of another sort occurred in 1961 when the Mercedarian formation program was moved from Pohnpei to Saipan. The young Micronesian girls in training, along with several of the Spanish sisters, were transferred from Pohnpei, and suddenly the large cement-block aspirants house that had been built a few years earlier stood empty. Eleven Mercedarians remained on Pohnpei to staff the schools in Kolonia, Awak and Wene. The three-story convent, the only one of its kind on the island, was now far larger than necessary to house the seven sisters in Kolonia.
PATS students on a construction project
Meanwhile, the building continued. Br. Condon finished the new Jesuit residence in Kolonia, opened in late 1960 and adorned with a front porch and stairway designed by Br. Gogenola, his last contribution to the mission before his death. The building was located on the very site of the old German Capuchin residence, a site that had been occupied by the priests of Kolonia continuously for the past 60 years. With the residence finished, Br. Condon turned his attention to the Kolonia school and then began work on a new church in Seinwar before he started construction of the new boys dormitory behind the Jesuit residence. At Tamworoi, Fr. Costigan, who had already supervised the construction of dozens of cement houses for Pohnpeians belonging to the Madolenihmw Housing Coop, turned to work on the school that was ever more becoming the focus of his energy and vision. A warehouse and dock had been built in the late 1950s to expedite the landing of supplies, and then a small housing and dining complex was put up close by. Finally by 1960 the foundations were laid for five main buildings of what was to become the Pohnpei Agriculture and Trade School. Beginning with the main building at the top of the hill, the new edifices went up little by little during the next few years until the heart of the PATS complex was complete.
Fr. John Curran (left) and Fr. William McGarry
The early 1960s saw the arrival of several American Jesuits who would play key roles in the important phase of church work that followed the Vatican Council. Fr. William McGarry was assigned to Pohnpei in 1960, just in time to take over the Kitti parish after the death of Fr. Quirino. He remained pastor there for the next seven years, updating the church in that area while gaining the knowledge of language and culture that enabled him later to take on broader leadership roles in Pohnpei and the whole mission. Fr. John Curran began his work on Pohnpei three years later, serving as assistant pastor to Fr. Cantero in Kolonia for a time. Fr. Joseph Cavanagh arrived in 1964, first assisting Fr. Costigan at Tamworoi before succeeding Fr. McGarry as the pastor of Kitti. These men, together with Frs. Berganza and Costigan, comprised the permanent staff of priests on Pohnpei during the critical years of church renewal. Fr. McGowan was transferred back to Chuuk in 1964.
Fr. Joseph Cavanagh
Parish work during these critical years went on quietly and undramatically, but slowly providing the basis for a new vision of the church on Pohnpei that reflected the thinking of Vatican II. Working through the Mwahnakapw and other church organizations, Fr. McGarry and the other young pastors began instilling a view of the church that was less clerical and hierarchical, one that encouraged Pohnpeian people to see themselves as the key elements in the church. Related to this was a new emphasis on the importance in the local church of what was genuinely Pohnpeian. The social environment, which earlier missionaries had been inclined to see as more of an impediment to Christianization, was now being understood in a much more positive way as the rich soil in which a distinctively Pohnpeian church would bloom. Pohnpeian laity were incorporated much more into church planning, and intense efforts went into the formation of lay church leadership, particularly through existing parish organizations.
Yet, for all this, the role of the church in human development was by no means ignored. The credit unions that Fr. Cavanagh began first at Tamworoi and later in Kitti had as their goal the betterment of people's the social and economic standards of living, but it was essential that the people themselves take on the primary responsibility for their own human growth. The guiding principle for this work was that any genuine development must involve the full participation of the people at all stages. Hence, special efforts were made to begin with small projects and let them expand in keeping with people's ability to handle them. This was not the first time in the history of the church on Pohnpei that missionaries pursued human development as an integral part of the preaching of the gospel, but the awareness of just what this development involved led them to adopt different methods from those used in the past.
As this revolution in church thinking was taking place, circumstances were forcing pastors to abandon some of the old forms of ministry, most notably the schools. The early surge of local vocations allowed the Mercedarians to expand their school apostolate for a time, but soon many of the young sisters were sent to college or to religious formation programs of various kinds. There was an attempt to recruit American volunteers to teach in the Pohnpei Catholic schools, but the death of Judy O'Toole, one of the volunteers, and problems with others led to the abandonment of the attempt. By 1963 the Mercedarians had to withdraw from the parish school in Wene, and within another five years they also had to give up their commitment to the Awak school. This left the pastors with the burden of running these schools by themselves just at the time that the government, with its new funds and personnel, was expanding its system throughout the island. With American contract teachers and Peace Corps working in the free public schools, interest in the mission schools understandably began to wane. By the late 1960s, all of the mission schools except for Our Lady of Mercy were forced to close. Our Lady of Mercy was affected by the expansion of public education as well, for it drew fewer boarders from the outlying parishes and became increasingly a school for Kolonia residents.
The closing of the schools was not seen as the disaster that it would have seemed in earlier times, in part because the healthier respect for the local culture now held by the missionaries rendered obsolete the old view of the school as the bulwark against culture. Moreover, pastors had other means of doing genuine educational work than through the schools. There was growing emphasis on adult education within the villages through a variety of means, old and new. These were more optimistic times than the earlier age when missionaries felt that the best they could hope to do was to train the next generation to live truly Christian lives. The priests on Pohnpei during the late 1960s and afterwards saw no reason why they could not accomplish the same thing with the present adult generation. One innovative method for doing this was the adult mobile teams, groups of four or five men who would spend a week or two in a village leading presentations and discussions on a theme related to both church and local society. This format, later adopted by other parts of the mission, was a training experience for a new generation of church leaders even as it drove home to them the close relationship between church and world. For several years adult mobile teams continued to provide religious education opportunities for rural Pohnpeians, until later they were supplanted by youth mobile teams of the same sort.
Another outgrowth of the new directions of the church on Pohnpei was the diaconate program, begun about 1970. As pastoral efforts focused on the training of lay leadership in the church, some of the men showed outstanding ability and commitment to ministry. The priests decided to decided to invite these men to begin a training program that would prepare them to become permanent deacons, an office that was restored by the Vatican Council. The program was held each month for two or three days, with candidates and their wives attending. Finally, in June 1973, four Pohnpeian men were ordained deacons: Selerino Selestin, Jerry Victor, Etwel Pelep, and Lorens Iohanis. They were the first Pohnpeians to reach clerical status since Fr. Cantero's ordination as a priest just before World War II. Another three (Misael Pelep, Manuel Amor and Koropin Kerman) were ordained the following year. The deacons were then assigned to different parishes around the island where some of them soon became parish administrators.
In keeping with the church thrust towards indigenization, the pastors made attempts to adapt the liturgy to reflect Pohnpeian custom and values. Among the most notable experiments along this line were the adaptation of the sakauen tomw for inclusion in a communal liturgy of reconciliation and the change in the baptismal ceremony to include such Pohnpeian features as the bestowal of a garland together with the title or Christian name. There were also some minor adaptations made in the Eucharistic liturgy, particularly in connection with the posture of the congregation and the presentation of the offerings. As modest as these changes might seem, they represented the new and more positive attitude towards the local culture that was encouraged by the Vatican Council. Such experiments, when combined with the elevation of Pohnpeians to new positions of leadership in the church, helped generate the feeling that the church was not simply an alien imposition on the culture but its genuine outgrowth.
Meanwhile, a different line of development work was being carried on in Tamworoi. PATS had opened its doors to young men from all over Micronesia in 1965, and the campus facilities were growing each year. Fr. Edward Soucie arrived in Pohnpei the year that the school opened to become principal and head of the agriculture department. Within a few years, Fr. Richard Becker was sent to Pohnpei to teach construction, in time becoming the assistant director of the school, and Fr. Charles Crowley later became a permanent member of the faculty. From the first PATS had to employ numerous lay teachers; many of these positions soon came to be filled by Micronesians, with several of them drawn from the school's own alumni. The school was not only producing skilled tradesmen and farmers, but was propagating its own future teachers. In keeping with PATS's pioneering role in economic development, the school began to spawn such experiments as commercial poultry production, banana production, and coconut oil processing. Even as it grew in size and complexity, PATS kept some of the features of the model farm, the kernel from which it had grown.
As government education continued to expand, the church of Pohnpei pondered what it might do to assist those who were not directly benefiting from formal schooling. To help girls who had no opportunity to finish high school, the church inaugurated in the early 1970s under the direction of the Mercedarian sisters a two-year vocational training program in Kolonia. Enrolling about 50 or 60 girls, the program taught basic homemaking skills, religion, social science and other basics to those who had no hope of attending high school. The program was later extended for a time to Kitti and Madolenihmw under the supervision of Sr. Agnes Helgenberger, one of Pohnpei's first Mercedarian sisters. The church also initiated a weekly radio program to reach a wider audience and used this format successfully since the early 1970s to probe life themes and social issues. The programs were begun by Sr. Leticia Renteria, later taken over by Sr. Carmen William, and continued by several Pohnpeians, including Felipe Agrippa and Baldasar Sardis.
From about the middle 1970s the foreign personnel on Pohnpei declined sharply and the church was forced into a period of retrenchment. With Fr. McGarry named mission superior in 1973, Fr. Cavanagh was made pastor of Kolonia. Fr. Berganza and Br. Cobo, both of whom had been formally retired for some years, died about this time. Fr. Cantero, who had always shown an aptitude for language work, was now working fulltime on a new Pohnpeian translation of the bible. Fr. Curran had received other assignments outside of Pohnpei most of these years, and Fr. John Garvey, who had taken up the slack for a while, left Pohnpei for the US in 1978. The Mercedarians had suffered similar losses of personnel, and the fewer sisters who remained on Pohnpei bore additional responsibilities for catechetical and adult education work. Because of the declining personnel and other commitments, the authorities in Kolonia were finally forced to close Our Lady of Mercy School in 1977. The decision was a controversial one, for the school had come to symbolize a tradition of high-quality Catholic education. Despite the declining enrollment and the ever growing problem of staffing and supporting the school, Our Lady of Mercy evoked memories of the days of Br. Cobo's boarding students and afternoons spent working on the farm. The closing of the school seemed to represent the end of the church's splendid history of commitment to elementary education on Pohnpei.
By 1980 or so the worst of the personnel crisis had passed. The deacons had been managing nicely in their parishes, but even so they required on-going training and a measure of supervision. Subsequent to the assignment of Fr. David Andrus to Pohnpei in 1981, this need was met. Fr. Ed Soucie's move from PATS into pastoral work strengthened the ranks of the parish priests still more. The arrival of Fr. Greg Muckenhaupt in 1992 contributed further to the pool of resources on Pohnpei. At the same time the Sisters of Maria Auxiliatrice, a Japanese community, opened a new house on Pohnpei with three nuns, all of them doing catechetical work initially. This infusion of religious, in particular the new congregation of sisters, seemed to give a needed boost of spirit to the church workers on Pohnpei.
Fr. Paulino Cantero: first Micronesian priest
Local vocations, too, looked more promising than before. The Mercedarians, who had only three Pohnpeian sisters after more than 50 years of labor on the island, were again beginning to admit local girls. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Maria Auxiliatrice opened a novitiate in Awak and received several girls, including two from Pohnpei, into their congregation. A number of boys applied for St. Ignatius House to begin studies for the priesthood, two of whom have been ordained. Etwel Pelep, who served as a married deacon for years before he was widowed, was also raised to the priesthood. Fifty years after the ordination of the first Pohnpeian priest, there are at last other local priests. Vocations to the religious life and priesthood have been slow, even a century after the founding of the Catholic Church on the island, but the future is bright with promise.
Bishop Neylon sharing sakau with islanders
Meanwhile, there are other, perhaps more striking signs that the efforts of four generations of foreign missionaries to develop a genuinely Pohnpeian church have not been fruitless. Ten new deacons were ordained during the 1990s. They, together with the older group of deacons, continue to provide church leadership in nearly all of the local communities. Even apart from this, however, the laity has taken on itself a role that would have been unthinkable in earlier years. When the Catholic school in Kolonia was reopened in 1984, it was at the initiative of and under the direction of laypeople. Today the school is run by parishioners themselves not as a parochial school but as a private Catholic school, one measure of the degree of responsibility that people have taken upon themselves.
For a century Pohnpeians have walked in the shadow of the foreign missionaries–Spanish, German, and American. The contribution of Pohnpeians to the growth of their own church has been largely hidden, though no less real for that. The future will highlight even more strongly Pohnpeian leadership over their own Church..
Hezel, Francis X. "The Catholic Church in Micronesia: Historical essays on the Catholic Church in the Caroline-Marshall Islands". ©2003, Micronesian Seminar. All Rights Reserverd.