Paris’ church-building career in Kona began with Kahikolu


Kahikolu Church

Kahikolu Church marked the start of the Rev. John D. Paris’ church-building career in Kona after his return to the mission field in 1852. As he wrote later: “The first church which I erected in South Kona was the Kahikolu, or Trinity, Church near Kealakekua Bay. This church is on the site of the immense stone and adoby (sic) building erected in 1840 under the supervision of Brethern Forbes and Ives. (The roof of this old church had fallen in, and complete rebuilding was found necessary.) The new Kahikolu Church was built of lava rock, taking the width of the old building for the length of the new one. For the lime, coral was cut from the bottom of the ocean by the Hawaiians. I had a hole dug and built a lime kiln where the coral was burned. The lime thus obtained was of good quality and was used for making mortar as well as finishing the interior of the building. The heavy timbers were dragged from the forest, and the koa shingles and lumber for pulpit and pews were brought from the koa forest a number of miles up the mountainside.”

Kahikolu fell victim to time, earthquakes, termites and the gradual dispersal of its congregation. By the second half of the 20th century, it was a dangerous ruin. A grassroots effort restored the church in 1986, and it once more boasts an active congregation.

Kahikolu is the final resting place of Henry Opukahaia, the famous Hawaiian who inspired the first Protestant American missionaries to come to Hawaii. In 1809, Opukahaia swam from the beach at Napoopoo to the safety of Capt. Britnall’s American ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay. Defying his uncle, who was training him for the priesthood near Hikiau Heiau, Opukahaia chose to travel to the United States. Once in New England, his conversion to Christianity inspired him with a desire to return to Hawaii as a missionary and share his new faith with his own people. Unfortunately, he died of typhus fever in Connecticut at the age of 26 before his dream could be realized.

The remains of Opukahaia’s body were moved to Kahikolu Church in 1993. The entrance to Kahikolu Church is marked by a sign on the makai side of Napoopoo Road. Follow the gravel road to the church parking lot.

Copyright 1998 Kona Historical Society. Reprinted by permission.