History 0f St. Joseph Church

Fr Charles Pouzot

How it all began

Catholic Christian worship in Hilo was as early as 1839. The first chapel located on bayfront was made from pili grass and was called Saint Martin de Tours. Father Charles Pouzot, SCC became the first pastor of the parish in 1845. By 1848 the small grass chapel was replaced by a new wooden structure. The Tabernacle to preserve the Eucharist was placed in the sanctuary in 1849. Gradually the worship space was adorned with statues and stations of the cross.  A bell donated in 1850, was a gift from sailors serving on the American man-of-war Independence.  In 1852 the chapel was enlarged due to the generosity of sailors from another American warship whose spiritual needs had also been served in Hilo.

In 1862 the parish of St. Martin de Tours had once again outgrown its place of worship. A new larger church was built in the area of Kalakaua Park on Keawe and Wainuenue Avenue. Using stones and rocks which had been collected from the royal lands near the Wailuku River, the new larger, twin towered church was able to accommodate the rapidly growing number of communicants. On July 9, 1862 Bishop Louis Maigret, Bishop of Honolulu dedicated the new church to Saint Joseph. That same day 30 more people were baptized and about 300 more were confirmed to become full members of the Saint Joseph Catholic Community.

In the 1880’s an increase in the number of Portuguese immigrants from the Madeira Islands more than doubled the Catholic Christian population in Hilo. Father Puozot already fluent in English, French and Hawaiian, learned Portuguese and began to preach his sermons in Portuguese as well as in English and Hawaiian. From that time to the present the Portuguese have been the backbone of the Catholic Church in Hawaii.

Fr. Pouzot continued to serve the needs of Saint Joseph parish until his death in 1895 at the age of 76Fr. Puozot is buried in the St. Joseph cemetery among the people he loved and served during his 50 years in Hilo.

Fr. James C. Bessell, SSCC was assigned as pastor at Saint Joseph in 1909. The twin towered church had recently been renovated. Father’s zealous effort to reach many families resulted in increasing devotional opportunities and an increase in the numbers of parishioners. His enthusiasm was contagious. Through his efforts and the community spirit of the people, there soon grew a need for a new, larger church. Father Beissell purchased the property on the corner of Kapiolani and Haili Streets from the First Hawaiian Company in 1915. The large community of active faithful including, among others, Hawaiian and Portuguese families worked together to build their new church.

The cornerstone was laid in 1917 and the church was dedicated at its present location in February 1919. One needs only to read the names engraved below the statues and stained glass windows to observe the generosity of those builders of the present church.