Just south of us is ST. BENEDICT'S PAINTED CHURCH, overlooking beautiful and historic Kealakekua Bay. It is the jewel of South Kona, at a place called Honaunau. While it is an important historical site, it is still a vibrant parish, with outreach programs to take care of those in need and to provide medical services for the local community.
The Catholic church has been a part of life in South Kona since 1842. The first church was located on the shore of Honaunau near the City of Refuge and was known as St. Francis Regis chapel. By the mid 1880's most of the folks had moved away from the beach to the cooler climate and more fertile soil to be found a bit higher on the slopes of Mauna Loa. Father John Berchmans Velghe, A Sacred Hearts priest from Belgium, (St. Damien's order) arrived in 1899 and decided to follow the local residents up the mountain slope. The folks dismantled the church and with the help of mules, moved it to its present location.
With repairs and additions the church looked like new. In August 1902 Bishop Ropert from Honolulu visited the relocated church, consecrated it, and named it in honor of St. Benedict.
Father Velghe, a self-taught artist, painted the interior walls of the church. His three dimensional interior painting was inspired by the gothic cathedral of Burgos in Spain. His paintings of scenes from the bible and the lives of the saints were very important teaching tools in a time when many people couldn't read and write.Fr. Velghe's health deteriorated and he had to return to Belgium in 1904, so he was never able to finish the church.
Encircling each column is a painted white ribbon, bearing, in the Hawaiian language, one of the mottoes of St. Benedict's medal.
The inscriptions are as follows:
O ke kea hemolele kou malamalama. (“The Holy Cross be my light”)
Hele oe pela a Satana. (“Begone Satan!”)
He poino kou mea i ninini mai ai. ("Do not suggest to me thy vanities")
Aole o Satana kou alakai. ( "Let not the dragon be my guide")
Ua oki oe me kou pau wale. (( "Evil are the things thou profferest")
Nau no e inu kou poino. (( "Drink your own poison")
In December of 1983 restoration work began on the deteriorating church, in collaboration with the Bishop museum in Honolulu. In February of 1985 the restoration was complete and the parish celebrated. On the hundredth anniversary of the dedication of the church in its present location, in 2002, more renovation was completed.
St. Benedict's Church, with its unique art work, is listed in the Hawaii State Register of Historic places and the National Register of Historic Places.
Everyone is welcome, the spirit of Aloha permeates the parish community. The Church sponsors scouting troops, a senior citizens group, and a food pantry to help feed those in need. It also provides supplemental groceries for several hundred people a month. A medical van comes once a week to provide medical and dental services to those who need them and lack insurance or the means to access them.