|introduction | yap | pohnpei | chuuk | palau | marshalls|
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN CHUUK
Through the Gateway of the Mortlocks
Christianity first reached Chuuk in 1874 with the arrival of Protestant missionaries in the Mortlocks, and the faith soon spread throughout Chuuk lagoon. It was almost 40 years later that Catholicism came to Chuuk. The beginnings of the Catholic church in Chuuk, the last of the principal island groups to be evangelized, lay in the terrible typhoon that devastated the Mortlocks in 1907. Large numbers of Mortlockese were evacuated from their ravaged islands by German ships and brought to Saipan and Pohnpei where some of them were catechized and became Catholics. The new converts repeatedly begged the German Capuchins, who then staffed the mission, to send priests to begin work among their fellow Mortlockese. The Capuchins had to turn down these requests, however, because of their lack of personnel and resources. It was only in 1911, after the Sokehs people were exiled to the western Carolines following the rebellion and the parish there was closed for good, that a priest could be found to undertake this new assignment. In late April of that year, Fr. Gebhard Rüdell, the former pastor of Sokehs, and Br. Eustachius Kessler left Pohnpei on a Japanese schooner to found a mission in the Mortlocks.
The two Capuchin missionaries soon arrived in Lukunoch where they received an enthusiastic welcome from the island chief and his people. In a short time Br. Eustachius and the Mortlockese assisting him constructed a sturdy wooden house, raised well off the ground so that the space beneath could be used for a chapel. This church, the first in the Chuuk area, received the name that it still bears today: Sacred Heart. With the help of those Mortlockese Catholics who had returned to their island after the typhoon, Fr. Gebhard began catechizing adults and children. He soon had under instruction over a hundred people, many of them pagans, even as he began making visits by canoe to the islands of Satawan. But the missionaries' duties involved far more than introducing people to the Catholic faith. The island and its people were still reeling from the shock of the typhoon four years earlier: the houses were in poor shape, food production was not yet back to normal, and the drinking water was polluted. A virulent form of dysentery and an epidemic of typhus, reportedly brought from Saipan, were claiming a shockingly high number of victims; Fr. Gebhard reported 18 church funerals within the first few months of his work. The priest sent to Pohnpei for medical supplies and the services of a German doctor; and by the beginning of 1912 living conditions were improved and the worst of the epidemics was over.
When Fr. Gebhard proposed the idea of a German school on Lukunoch, the people were thrilled and put up a building without delay. The young children of the island, all scrubbed and cleanly clothed, came to learn German in surprising numbers–at first 70, then 90, and finally 120. There would have been more, the priest reported, if people from nearby islands and relatives on Lukunoch could have provided for their children. Perhaps the finest hour of the school was when the students presented a recital of German songs, poems, and dialogues on the Kaiser's birthday, outshining even the troupes of dancers who came from all over the area to celebrate the occasion.
When Severin Oppermann replaced Fr. Gebhard, who returned to Germany for a rest in early 1912, the foundations of the mission in the Mortlocks were well laid. There were already over 50 Catholics on Lukunoch, with another 200 people being prepared for baptism. The seeds of the faith were planted in the other islands of the Mortlocks as well, for some of the first converts had ties with Satawan, Moch, Kuttu and Ettal. Fr. Severin and Br. Eustachius remained on Lukunoch for the remainder of the German period assisting the growing church there.
In the meantime, the clamor for Capuchin missionaries spread to the Chuuk lagoon. A handful of Chuukese, most of them half-caste, had attended the mission boarding school on Pohnpei where they became Catholics. The first was young Charles Hartmann, who was followed by Augustine and Henry Hallers, and then two of the Hartmann girls, Rafaela and Gabriela, all of whom returned to Chuuk after their schooling and began teaching prayers and proselytizing among members of their families. The foundations of the faith were laid in Sapore, Fefan, through the work of these young people.
The time had come for a missionary to Chuuk lagoon, and in March 1912 Fr. Ignatius Ruppert and Br. Sebald Trenkle were sent from Pohnpei to establish the first mission there. The site of the first residence was a hill in Enin facing Kuchua on Toloas, conveniently close to the government station that had been opened three years earlier but in a place reputedly haunted by evil spirits. Within a few months Toloas had its first church, St. Anthony of Padua, a small wooden frame church with roof and walls of thatch. While Br. Sebald tended to the construction of the new mission buildings, Fr. Ignatius traveled about the lagoon in his 32-foot boat, Pastora, and explored new sites for additional mission stations. Everywhere he was warmly received and everywhere people asked when the missionaries would open a school on their island. The local Protestant pastors had run schools for years, but the people wanted to learn German so badly that they would squeal with delight whenever they learned a new word in that language. Taking advantage of this interest, the priest opened the door to missionary work on every island he visited.chk_01.jpg 2.5" x 2.5"
When a new priest, Fr. Siegbert Gasser, was assigned to Chuuk a few months later, he was put in the charge of the parish on Toloas. While he tended to the pastoral duties there and taught in the newly opened school, Fr. Ignatius was free to continue to roam about the lagoon on his goodwill trips. For the next year he moved from island to island befriending those he met and untiringly telling any and all of the Catholic faith that he had come to preach. In time he bought land and established himself in Sopou, Pwelle (or Iluk, as it was then called)–a site at the opposite end of the lagoon from the mission in Toloas. There, with the help of Br. Sebald and Br. Melchior Majewsky, another new arrival to the mission, he built what was probably the most distinctive building in Chuuk. This new residence, situated on a hill overlooking the village, was a two-story structure constructed of iron and measuring 25 by 50 feet. The large hall downstairs was used as a church and school, while the priest lived on the second floor. The materials and construction cost the mission 3,000 marks, but there was no need to fear typhoons or termites, as Fr. Ignatius reminded his benefactors.
The building was barely finished when the next missionary priest, Fr. Lorenz Bollig, arrived to begin work in Chuuk. Fr. Lorenz was immediately installed in the new residence as the pastor of Faichuk. Like Fr. Siegbert on Toloas, he soon had a flourishing school, this one with an enrollment of 80 students. By the end of the year, Fr. Gebhard had returned to the mission after his sick leave abroad and became the fourth German priest working in Chuuk lagoon. In January 1914 he opened a station at Fouchuen on the western side of Fefan. With considerable help in his missionary work from the Hartmann and Hallers families and from Felix Muritok, an early Mortlockese convert who served as catechist, he made rapid progress in evangelizing Macheweichun. He was soon making pastoral visits to Parem and Siis, and his school with its 90 students was so crowded that he was obliged to open a second one in another village.chk_02.jpg 2.39" x 2.52"
With the new personnel, the German missionaries could divide the lagoon into parishes and set up what they hoped would be permanent administrative jurisdictions. Even Fr. Ignatius, that inveterate traveller, realized that the time had come to settle down to work in a single parish. Accordingly, he returned to Toloas to take over that parish, while Fr. Siegbert was sent to Udot to establish a fourth parish there. Erecting a small church of mangove wood brought from Pwelle, Fr. Siegbert soon had a growing Catholic community on Udot. This was the zenith of German work in Chuuk.
Some months later, in early 1915, an attempt was made to set up a church on Weno, an island that had from the beginning resisted the entrance of the Catholic missionaries. The few Catholics who lived there complained that their medals were ripped off their necks and their prayer books snatched out of their hands and destroyed. The people of the island were forbidden to join the new church under penalty of ostracism from the community. Nonetheless, Fr. Ignatius had somehow managed to purchase three small parcels of land on Weno: one in Winipis, one in Tunnuk, and one in Fais near the house of Mailo, the island chief. On this last plot of land the German superior hoped to build a chapel, and so sent to Weno Br. Melchior Majewsky, short and slight of build but indefatigable and a skilled builder. The church was well underway when the project came to a sudden and disastrous halt. One day while working on the roof, Br. Melchior fell and was struck on the head by a piece of wood that he had been holding. He died crushed and bleeding on the ground with no one to assist him, and his body was afterwards sent back to Toloas for burial. With this the German Capuchins abandoned their attempts to gain a foothold on Weno.
Even so, the progress that the missionaries had achieved in a few short years was surprising. By early 1914 there were already 200 pupils attending the mission schools in the lagoon, and the number rose to about 300 by the end of the year. The mission school on Toloas even held afternoon classes for the Chuukese policemen who worked for the German administration. In addition to the conventional schools, some of the parishes had also begun formal classes for those preparing for baptism. There were 15 people, including several married couples, attending such classes on Toloas in early 1914, and other parishes soon afterwards initiated similar classes. Catholic influence in the area was clearly on the rise.
As for the physical facilities, each of the parishes had a residence, usually a sturdy structure, that was elevated, built of wooden planks, and roofed with zinc sheets. In some cases the area underneath the raised building was walled in and used as either a school or church or both. The churches, where they existed, were temporary structures built of local materials since it was expected that the congregation would soon outgrow its place of worship anyway. One of the German priest described the typical church in Chuuk, even those in the main stations, as "a couple rows of posts stuck in the ground and covered with a roof." The roof and whatever walls the church may have had were of woven thatch. Inside there might have been an old bench separating the sanctuary from the rest of the church that also served as a communion rail. Besides the altar itself the only furnishings were a cupboard to store altar cloths and the sacred vessels. Outside was planted a garden whose flowers could be used to decorate the altar on feast days. Small and unadorned the early churches in Chuuk may have been, but they were simply transitional places of prayer for a growing community.chk_03.jpg 2.69" x 2.49"
Then, in October 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, a Japanese squadron suddenly steamed in to take possession of Chuuk. Fr. Ignatius was one of the witnesses as the head of the German bureau in Chuuk formally surrendered the islands to the Japanese military. The new authorities were quick to assure the missionaries that they would be allowed to operate as freely as before, and for a time they made good on their promise. Although all former German officials were soon taken off the islands, the missionaries went about their usual work without the slightest hindrance. When Fr. Siegbert began having medical problems with his right leg, he was operated on by Japanese doctors several times and always received prompt and courteous attention from hospital personnel. By late 1915, however, the situation was changing as the Japanese little by little began imposing restrictions on missionary activities. In October of that year authorities announced that henceforth teachers were forbidden to give instruction in German, and so all mission schools were to be closed. Then in early December the government issued a new edict banning any religious instructions or services on weekdays. A month later, in an even more shocking blow to the mission, the Japanese authorities announced that they were expelling two of the Capuchin priests, Fr. Gebhard and Fr. Ignatius. At the end of January 1916, they and two Protestant missionaries were escorted under military guard to a transport that carried them off to Yokohama. Finally, in March, the remaining priests were ordered to move to Toloas where they were confined to their house for a time.
The government was clearly worried about the influence that the German missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, might be exerting on the Chuukese people. As citizens of a nation that was at war with Japan, the missionaries were seen as a potential threat to the government and rivals for the allegiance of the Chuukese people. Moreover, the Capuchins had frequently enough run afoul of some of the Japanese military, as when Fr. Lorenz, a short and hot-tempered man, had challenged something an officer said and was slapped in the face for his remark. The Chuukese men with Fr. Lorenz had to pin the priest's arms down to prevent him from throwing a punch at the officer. Fr. Siegbert had once tried to prevent a Japanese commander from carrying on with a girl in one of the mission houses and had later reported him to his superiors. Dealings between the missionaries and the Japanese military worsened as the restrictions on their activities increased, and relations remained uneasy until the last Capuchin was expelled in 1919.
When the two remaining priests were released some months later, they divided between them the work that four priests had once done and set out to survey the state of their young communities after their own long absence. Fr. Lorenz now had responsibility for Fefan and Pwelle, while Fr. Siegbert took charge of Toloas and Udot. Fefan and Udot had fared well during the months in which the priests were incarcerated, but Pwelle had suffered some notable reverse. When Adolfo, the Catholic chief of the island, died, the converts and catechumens lost their bearings: church attendance was down and open promiscuity became rampant. The priests struggled to get the churches back on their feet, even as they were forced to deal with new restrictive measures and other annoyances imposed by Japanese officials.
Despite all this, the church expanded greatly during the next two years. This was nowhere more evident than in Macheweichun. With the support of the Hallers family, Fr. Lorenz opened a second mission station on Fefan at Sapore in April 1917. There he started a catechetical school for adults, which soon produced 24 candidates for baptism. The nearby island of Siis, on which the missionaries had established a chapel in 1915, was thriving under the leadership of Joa, the zealous Catholic who also served as island chief. The small Christian community there grew in size and strength at this time, although it suffered reverses after the death of Joa. In February 1918 the neighboring island of Parem received its own chapel and Catholicism began to spread quickly among the small population there.
The church of Pwelle, in the meantime, had recovered from the setbacks of two years earlier and was now beginning to missionize surrounding parts of Faichuk. The Christians from Sopou passed on their beliefs to the people of nearby Neirenom, and for a time at least this village became strongly Catholic. At the death of Wasi, the chief of Neirenom, however, the village reverted to its old ways. Through Pwelle Catholicism was also introduced to Wonei, which soon had a large enough community to warrant its own chapel by July 1918. The chapel was soon afterwards burned down by those who were hostile to Catholicism, but it was rebuilt almost immediately and the arsonists punished. The chief Andres Esira and his wife Macaria were instrumental in spreading the faith in this section of Faichuk. In time Wonei replaced Pwelle as the vital center of Catholicism in Faichuk.
While Fr. Lorenz was setting up new churches throughout his part of the lagoon, Fr. Siegbert was doing the same in his parishes. Sallying out from Udot, he founded churches for the small but growing communities on the islands of Romanum and Fanapanges at the end of September and October respectively. At about the same time he decided that Uman was finally ready for a church, and the thatched chapel of St. Michael's was dedicated in September 1918. From the very beginning of Capuchin work in Chuuk there had been some scattered Catholics on Uman, partly through the influence of the Narruhn family and others who had been educated in the mission school on Pohnpei. At first opposition to Catholicism was very strong on Uman, which had been the seat of Protestant church work 40 years earlier. Then Chiachor, the younger brother of the island chief, defied his brother's threats, became a Catholic, and with the permission of others secured land for a church at Nukunap. Thereafter, Hilario Narruhn became the chief catechist and took charge of the Catholic community on Uman.chk_04.jpg 3.66" x 2.48"
By the end of 1918 the German missionaries could look back on their work in Chuuk with genuine satisfaction. During that year alone six churches had been founded on various islands in the lagoon; even tiny Eot, an outgrowth of the movement on Udot, had its own chapel. Only Weno, which had resisted a later effort by Fr. Siegbert to establish a Catholic community, was still without a church. The Christmas eve mass on Fefan attracted a large crowd of Catholics from that island as well as Siis, Parem and Uman who spent the rest of the evening singing Christmas carols. In terms of numbers of baptized Catholics, Udot and its nearby island showed the most dramatic growth in church membership; there were nearly 400 Catholics on Udot alone with about 150 more from Eot, Romanum and Fanapanges. Fr. Siegbert's well-known challenge to the traditional spirits by sticking his leg in the hole that was reputedly taboo may have served to encourage the people, even though the serious inflammation of the leg that he subsequently developed was ascribed by some to his defiance of the spirits. Fefan and its satellite islands had a church enrollment of about 440, Toloas and Uman about 230, and Faichuk, which had perhaps gone through more ups and downs than any other area, had 125. In all, there were 12 churches and a total of more than 1400 baptized Catholics throughout the lagoon. To this could be added almost 400 more Catholics in the Mortlocks, where the original church on Lukunoch was still serving the entire archipelago.chk_05.jpg 2.91" x 1.96"
At the height of these conquests, however, the Japanese government bore down once again on the missionaries. The arrival of a new admiral to take command of the area signaled another change in policy, again for the worse. The government forbade the missionaries to travel around the lagoon at will and required advance authorization from the government each time they wanted to make a visit. When Fr. Lorenz, that feisty and outspoken critic of Japanese excesses, was caught visiting someone in the hospital in violation of these regulations, he was confined to his residence by the order of the government. That left the entire burden of visiting the churches and performing pastoral duties on Fr. Siegbert, who still limped around on swollen feet. For a while he did what he could with able assistance from the local catechists, but it soon became clear that the government intended to take the final decisive step in dealing with the missionaries.
The announcement that the Japanese were expelling all foreign missionaries, although painful, was not entirely unexpected. In the few weeks before the departure of the Capuchins, Fr. Siegbert went about the lagoon on one last round of the mission stations to baptize catechumens, assist the dying, celebrate mass for the faithful, and give a few words of encouragement to the catechists. The German missionaries also left their neophytes, besides the prayers and devotions to sustain their faith, a few printed works in their own language: a small catechism combined with a short bible history, some simple songbooks, and a translation of the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. When the steamer that was to take away the Capuchins in early July 1919 was about to depart, Fr. Siegbert called out with tears in his eyes to his flock: "Carry on and if we do not see each other again on this earth, we will meet in heaven."
The Return of Missionaries
In less than two years Catholic missionaries were back in Chuuk–not German Capuchins this time, but Spanish Jesuits. The Japanese government had no objection in principle to Christian missionaries, providing they were citizens of a nation that had remained neutral during the World War I. In fact, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a distinguished Catholic leader, went before the Vatican in 1920 to petition for new missionaries for the Japanese-held islands. It was the decision of Pope Benedict XV to assign Spanish Jesuits to this field, and by December 1920 a group of 22 Jesuit priest and brothers had left Spain for the mission. At their head was Fr. Santiago Lopez de Rego, the Jesuit Superior and the Apostolic Administrator of the church in the islands.
On March 6, 1921, the first of the two ships carrying the Jesuits to their new assignments anchored off Toloas. After a courtesy call on the Japanese military governor and a visit with some of the higher government officials, the missionaries proceeded to the small thatched chapel on Toloas where the Catholics had gathered to welcome them with Chuukese hymns. The ship soon afterwards left for Pohnpei and the Marshalls to drop off the rest of the missionaries at their new stations, and with it went the Jesuit Superior to have a first-hand look at these islands and help the men settle in. By the beginning of April, Fr. Rego had returned to Chuuk to rejoin Fr. Jose Pajaro and Br. Mancera; and Fr. Martin Espinal and Br. Aniceto Arizaleta, the two others assigned to the Chuuk area, had arrived on the second ship. The initial contingent of Jesuits who were to work in Chuuk–two priests and two brothers–was now in place and ready to begin rebuilding the church.
As Fr. Rego and Br. Mancera began an inspection tour of the mission stations established by the German Capuchins, they found that neglect and the tropical climate had left the buildings in shambles. The chapel on Toloas tilted to one side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, they reported, and the altar cloths were turned into lace by vermin. Even the parish residence, as solidly built as it was, had suffered serious damage, as the Jesuits learned to their surprise when a door collapsed one day and the kitchen and porch gave way a few days later. Most of the supports and beams had either been eaten by termites or rotted through by the humidity. Conditions were much the same in the other stations. In Fefan the windows of the church were broken and the door of the entrance was torn down; the roof leaked everywhere, even above the alter. The residence was not much better: the place was infested with rats, the tank for collecting rainwater was overturned and lying useless on the ground, and part of the roof collapsed while one of the Jesuits was cooking his meal. On Udot and Pwelle, the houses and churches were in better shape, but the cook-house and walkways were so termite-eaten that they were all but reduced to a pile of dust.
Far more important than the state of repair of the buildings was, of course, the condition of the Catholic communities that the German Capuchins had formed. How they fared depended on several things, especially the strength and leadership qualities of the catechist who was solely in charge of the congregation after the departure of the German priests. Fortunately, the church was endowed with some exceptional individuals, many of whom had been trained in the German mission school on Pohnpei. Felix from Fauchuen, Fefan, who had helped Fr. Gebhard on Lukunoch before moving to Chuuk, was an example of one such devoted catechist. Kalistus from Udot was another. Hilario Narruhn, also a product of the German school and the captain of the mission boat Maria, instructed people in the faith and gathered them daily for prayers. Several of the Hartmann family and two of the Hallers boys also provided essential leadership to their communities during those critical years. Simeon, the catechist of Parem, had kept his fellow Catholics steadfast even in the face of threats by others on the island. When he was taunted that the priests would never return after the departure of the German Capuchins, he replied that even if they never came back he and the other Catholics would remain firm in their commitment to the Catholic faith.
Even with the return of the missionaries, the Catholic communities were forced for a time to depend largely on their own spiritual resources. Frs. Rego and Pajaro, the only priests working in the lagoon and not yet able to speak Chuukese, could do little more than visit the different stations to provide mass and confessions for the people. The arrival some months later of another priest, Fr. Juan Pons, together with Br. Miguel Timoner, provided some additional help, especially for the Catholics of Fefan where Fr. Pons took up work as pastor. For the most part, however, Catholics continued as before to look to the morning prayers and the afternoon rosary that were recited together as their main source of spiritual sustenance.
Resumption of Work in the Mortlockschk_06.jpg 2.38" x 3.24"
Fr. Espinal and Br. Arizaleta, in the meantime, had been sent to the Mortlocks where they would serve with extraordinary dedication for the next 20 years. At their arrival in Lukunoch in April 1921, they found the Catholic community fairly well intact but beset by serious problems. A typhoon had struck the island five months earlier and depleted the food resources of the island. Although the typhoon was not as severe as that of 1907, whose effects were still being felt when the German Capuchins set up their mission there, many people had already died of malnutrition and others had left for the high islands of Pohnpei and Chuuk. Since the ship that was to bring the missionaries' own supplies was delayed for several months, the Jesuits shared the privations of their community. Their daily fare for weeks on end was breadfruit and pumpkins from their own garden, sometimes with a side dish of rice if they had it. One day, after their few supplies ran out, their whole evening meal consisted of a little pumpkin and an egg that they divided between them. Their hunger left them so weak at times that they could do almost nothing during the day–a trial that was probably as hard to bear as the hunger itself for two energetic souls such as these.
Hungry or not, the Jesuits decided that they must replace the chapel on Lukunoch that had fallen before the ravages of termites and typhoon. With no tools and no traders on the island from whom to order them, they had to make do with what they had. Br. Arizaleta began digging the foundation for the new coral block church with a frying pan, and the workmen as often as not mixed the mortar with their bare hands. Coral blocks were carried up from the sea on a rickety wooden cart that the brother built and they were shaped by small wooden adzes. Work was painfully slow under such conditions, but the Jesuits were encouraged when the Protestant chief of the island ordered his people to assist the Catholics in the construction, even after Fr. Espinal told him that he could not do the same if the Protestants were to rebuild their own church. When the church was completed a year or two later, it was an imposing building measuring almost 100 by 40 feet, the closest thing to a cathedral that the Chuuk area would have during those pre-war years.
The Catholic community that Frs. Gebhard and Severin had left on Lukunoch was fairly well intact in 1921 and grew quickly as conversions multiplied during the first years of Jesuit work. The priests could not help but be impressed by the piety of the Mortlockese Catholics: there were over a hundred communicants at daily mass and almost the entire Catholic population crowded into the temporary chapel in the late afternoon for rosary. Several boys knew the Latin responses to the mass prayers, and Fr. Espinal was already preparing a book of prayers in Mortlockese for publication. The pastor also found time to re-establish the mission school, at first holding classes in the hall under the residence, as the German had done, and later erecting another building for this purpose.
Travel to the other islands in the Mortlocks was difficult for the missionaries in those early years before the purchase of a sea-going mission boat, but Fr. Espinal realized that it was essential if he wanted to capitalize on the growing interest in the church among the Mortlockese people. Those from other islands who visited Lukunoch could not help but be impressed with the vigor of the church there, as was evidenced by mass attendance, the ambitious church construction project, and school enrollment. Up to this point all the 400 Mortlockese Catholics were from Lukunoch with the exception of a small number of Satawanese who had been converted during German times. Espinal desperately wanted to establish a beachhead on the other islands in the area, particularly those places that had been staunchly Protestant until then.
The first island to fall under the spell of Catholicism was Moch, an island that the German priests had visited without success. Led by the island chief Tameri, some Moch people came to Lukunoch for instruction in the faith and were baptized there in May 1922. Soon afterwards Fr. Espinal visited Moch, received many more people into the church, and appointed the island chief, now known as Constantino, as the catechist. Next came Satawan, an island that had a number of Catholics who had been baptized on Pohnpei years before, although many of them had succumbed to pressure and reverted to Protestantism. Espinal administered the first baptisms on that island in February 1923, but religious tension on the island continued and Catholicism never swept through Satawan as it did on Lukunoch and Moch. Ettal became the site of a chapel and mission station in 1924 after several people from that island were baptized on Lukunoch. Lack of strong leadership and a propensity towards individualism on the part of the men caused some problems in church growth, however. Kuttu received its first Catholic population in March 1925, and soon after this a church was under construction on the island.
The Catholic evangelization of the Mortlocks occurred with surprising speed, and by 1927 church expansion had just about reached its limits. In that year there were four churches under construction, including stone churches on Moch, Satawan and Kuttu, for Fr. Espinal believed that a beautiful church building was a powerful attraction for non-Catholics. Indeed, the number of Catholics throughout the Mortlocks already exceeded a thousand, a level at which the Catholic population would remain for the next two decades. With the acquisition of the San Ignacio, the 40-foot sailboat that the mission acquired in 1925 to serve the outer islands, the Jesuit priest could get around much more easily–at least when he had the money to pay the crew's salary and other expenses. Even with that, however, Espinal learned that not every island in the Mortlocks could be converted to Catholicism. On Ta, for example, not only did the priest's repeated attempts to make headway came to nothing, but the two Catholic families on the island gradually drifted back to Protestantism. As for Oneap, the persistent Espinal visited the island no fewer than six times, always finding the island united in opposition to him, and the priest was actually escorted off the island by force on one of his futile trips there. From 1927 on, then, the principal work of the Jesuits in the Mortlocks was to consolidate the gains that they had made and deepen the faith of their converts.
To the Other Islands
In Chuuk lagoon work proceeded much more slowly. There were far too few priests to manage the scattered parishes there, and the frequent personnel changes during these early years further hampered effectiveness. Fefan, the first island outside of Toloas to have a priest in residence, had a string of three pastors within the first five years. Fr. Juan Pons, the first of the priests assigned there, left Chuuk altogether in 1923 when he was named the Jesuit mission superior. In August of that same year, Fr. Lopez de Rego, who until then had been serving as pastor of Toloas, was consecrated bishop of the Vicariate. Although Bishop Rego continued to live on Toloas after his return from Europe, he was forced to divide his time between his episcopal duties and pastoral work on Toloas. Fr. Pajaro, one of the original three priests to be assigned to Chuuk, was transferred to the Marshalls scarcely a year later. Frs. Pedro Castro and Carlos Faber, new arrivals to Chuuk in 1923, remained for less than two years; while the priests who replaced them in 1925–Frs. Antonio Guasch, Jose Pajaro, and Ramon Suarez–proved to be equally temporary substitutes. The Jesuit brothers assigned to Chuuk at this time also served short terms; Brs. Francisco Hernandez and Miguel Timoner spent only a year or two in Chuuk, while Br. Fernando Hernandez was there for four years in all.
Even with the limited missionary personnel there were real gains made during these early years. On Toloas, the administrative center for Chuuk at that time, Bishop Rego was well situated to meet people from the outer islands who were coming in on business or for medical attention. It was from these passing contacts that people from places not yet evangelized would conceive an interest in having a Catholic priest visit their home island. These requests could not always be acted upon right away because of the lack of priests, but the influence of the church grew steadily throughout these early years.
Perhaps the most dramatic instance of this was in regard to Weno, an island that for years had tried to prevent priests from entering and had gone to great lengths to dissuade the few Catholics on the island from practising their faith. The island chief, Mailo, met the bishop one day in the course of a visit to Toloas and explained to him that his reason for opposing the coming of Catholicism to his island was his fear that this would create further divisiveness among a people who already had more than enough to quarrel about. He told the bishop that he would inform him when he felt the new faith could be introduced to Weno without causing great disturbance among the people. Impressed by his integrity and honesty, the bishop agreed to refrain from any work on the island until he received word from the chief. In the meantime, Bishop Rego had occasion to defend the rights of some people from Weno against the Japanese authorities. So impressed was Mailo by this that he immediately sent word to the bishop that he could begin a mission on the island whenever he wanted and that he would offer his own house to the priest as a place to stay. Bishop Rego himself went over to Weno along with some Mortlockese Catholics who served as crew members on the San Ignacio, the mission boat. To his surprise he found the chief's house boarded up and the chief's elder son standing in front of the house contesting his claim to hospitality. Learning that the chief was off island for a while, the bishop rebuked the young man for his disobedience to his father and had the Mortlockese remove the planks that were nailed to the house. When Mailo heard about what had happened in his absence, he scolded his son and ordered him to apologize to the bishop. From that time on, all chiefly opposition to Catholicism on Weno ceased and the doors were open for the assignment of the first resident pastor to the island a few years later.
With Jesuits residing on Toloas and Fefan, the next island to receive its own priest was Tol when Fr. Castro was assigned there in 1923. Even at that time there were five villages with Catholic communities, with the largest in Wonei and Pwelle. Between them lay the island of Paata, an area that was largely pagan and which had always intrigued the priest on his monthly visits to Wonei. One day he decided to stop off there and walk the length of the shore while his paddlers brought the canoe around to meet him in Sapata, the village facing Wonei. Unable to communicate well in Chuukese, Fr. Castro did what many others in his position have done: he relied on pictures to tell the story. As he walked from one end of Paata to the other, he distributed to everyone he met, including the Protestant pastor, a Sacred Heart badge from a bundle that he brought with him. After finishing his work in Wonei as he was returning to Sopou, a canoe from Paata made towards his and called for the priest to halt. One of the two men in the canoe threw at the priest a packet of Sacred Heart badges, collected from the people to whom they had been distributed, and told him in a threatening voice that he was not to visit the island again by order of the chief. Fr. Castro did in fact return to Paata two months later, but was largely shunned by the people. On his third visit a month later he found the chief sitting in a house nursing his dying wife. In deep distress now over the imminent loss of his wife, the chief promised Castro that he could begin preaching in Paata if he cured the sick woman. The priest placed one of his Sacred Heart badges on the woman, prayed over her and left. The chief's wife subsequently recovered and lived for several more months, the chief allowed the priest access to his island, and within a few months there was a tiny Christian community sprouting there.chk_07.jpg 2.20" x 3.06"
Fr. Castro found the same good use of Sacred Heart badges when he was trying to begin evangelizing Piis-Moen over the objections of a stubborn chief. Although there was no sudden cure involved, the results were much the same as on Paata: the chief relented and people began asking to be received into the church. Other priests using more conventional means, and always relying heavily on the dedication and persuasive powers of their catechists, found doors opening to them everywhere. Within four years of their arrival, the Jesuits had established a foothold on every island in the lagoon and had baptized about 4,000 Chuukese. Two Chuukese had even been sent off with three other Micronesians to the seminary in Manila in 1923, and three more would soon follow. Opposition from Protestant pastors and the island chiefs who supported them continued long afterwards, since this was not an age noted for its ecumenical spirit and the Spanish priests were not inclined towards a tolerance of what they felt was error plain and simple. Nonetheless, the missionaries made surprisingly rapid progress during these early years.
Popular piety took its peculiar forms then even as today. Those early years produced such a spate of religious visions and other similar phenomena that the Chuuk area soon came to be known as the "Islands of Apparitions." On Ruo the Blessed Virgin, bathed in light and elevated off the ground, was said to have appeared to the people and instructed them to wear clothes when they entered the church. On Ettal the statue of the Sacred Heart was supposedly surrounded by a bright nimbus on more important feast days. A family on Weno claimed that a beautiful woman clothed in white and suffused in brilliant light visited their house and then walked to the church where she knelt praying for a time before she disappeared. A young girl in the family who had been very ill was afterwards healed and the family, then Protestant, were all received into the Catholic church. Others who also claimed that they had visions came to seek help from the priests, usually in the form of baptism for themselves and their families, but sometimes the last sacraments to prepare themselves or a relative for a death that was prophesied. The priests, who were themselves given to such beliefs generally encouraged the people in their devotion to these miracles.
As the missionaries carried on their pastoral work in the lagoon, they became increasingly concerned about what to do for the outer islands. To provide a ready means of transportation to these and other islands, Bishop Rego contracted with a Japanese carpenter to build a 40-foot four-masted sailboat of ten tons that was christened the San Ignacio. The boat, which required a six-man crew, was ready for use in 1925. Hilario Narruhn, who had been captain of the Maria, was chosen to take charge of this vessel and a Mortlockese crew was picked to man it. Even before the boat sailed with the first missionary, however, the faith reached some of the islands through the efforts of zealous catechists. Maka, the brother of the chief of Kuchua on Toloas, took it upon himself to visit Puluwat and introduce Catholicism to that island. He returned to Chuuk with some of the Puluwatese, who were promptly baptized and thereafter returned to their own island to form a church of over one hundred people. When the Catholic chief of Puluwat died and was succeeded by another who proved hostile to the new religion, Maka moved to Tamatam where he soon built up another Catholic community.
In 1925 the priests began making visits to the Western Islands, Namonuitos and Halls. In that year Fr. Antonio Guasch and Pedro Simiron, a Mortlockese catechist who later did some work in the Western Islands, took a Japanese steamer to the Halls and Namonuitos. Working under the usual limitations imposed by a field trip, they had very little time on each island but somehow managed to baptize half the population of Nomwin. They found the people of that island especially well disposed to the faith because a Japanese boat loaded with Mortlockese Catholics had happened on Nomwin after being lost at sea. The Catholics, as it turned out, spent Christmas on the island and took the opportunity to initiate their hosts in the teaching of their faith. On Murilo, by contrast, the priest found that he could make no headway at all in the face of the prestige enjoyed by the Protestant pastor, a man who had come from Kuchua some years before. At Ulul the priest and catechist did much better; they baptized nearly 150 people, although many of them would have to be reconverted at a later date.
When Fr. Guasch visited the outer islands again the following year, it was in the new San Ignacio with its Mortlockese crew members who also doubled as song leaders and catechism teachers. Upon reaching Nomwin, they immediately found themselves preparing the other half of the population for reception into the church and conducting baptismal ceremonies for 80 persons that lasted about six hours. The next stop was Pisarach, where they were welcomed by Paulus, the dapper young island chief who was fond of European clothes and liked to have a hand in everything, church matters included. The island population was virtually all Catholic already, but there were a few more baptisms and confirmations to be performed. There were stops at other islands, hours of instruction through the Mortlockese, and always mass and communions. At the end of it all, the missionaries could take satisfaction in knowing that there was a Catholic community of some size on every island except Pulusuk, Pulap, Fananu and Murilo.
Consolidating the Gains
With the rapid growth in the number of Catholics, some stability and structure was needed in the parishes of Chuuk if proper instruction were to be provided for the recent converts. In the past few years the church in Chuuk had depended heavily on short-term priests and brothers, most of them transferred to Chuuk when the mission in the Marshalls closed. The time had come at last for its reinforcement with new long-term personnel who could acquire the knowledge of the language and culture needed to serve the young church in Chuuk in this period. Fr. Jaime Battle and Fr. Faustino Hernandez, both of whom served in Chuuk until well into American times, arrived in 1927. The previous year marked the coming of three Jesuit brothers, each of whom was to spend 25 years or longer on Chuuk: Br. Salvador Casasayas, a skilled carpenter who was to be the chief architect and builder for the mission; Br. Cipriano Martin, who would assist Fr. Hernandez in his parish work; and Br. Pedro Espuny, who was a long-time companion of Fr. Jaime. These men, together with Bishop Rego were to be the mainstays of the mission throughout the years of Japanese rule.
The influx of new personnel now made it possible to have priests residing in four parishes. Fr. Hernandez was assigned to Fefan, where he remained until shortly before the war, while Fr. Jaime went to Weno to open the first permanent mission there. A succession of Jesuits on short-term assignments cared for Faichuk, where the main residence was transferred from Sopou to Unifei. Bishop Rego, suffering now from pains in the leg, assumed pastoral care of Toloas, but Uman was taken from him and attached to the Fefan parish. Udot and its neighboring islands of Romanum and Fanapanges, an area that was once the residence of a German priest, was relegated to the status of a sub-parish and passed back and forth between pastors. At times the three islands were put under the care of Fr. Hernandez; sometimes Romanum and Fanapanges were added to the Tol parish, while Udot remained attached to Fefan. In view of the people's reputation for devotion and tenacity to the faith, the Spanish Jesuits felt that Nomwisofo did not require the same attention as some of the other places. To assist them the pastors had a network of Chuukese catechists in the villages whose responsibilities were to lead prayers and instruct people in the faith. The catechists received a salary of between ten and 20 yen a month depending on where they were stationed, but the mission was also hard pressed to find the money to pay them, it seems.
The Jesuit priests brought their own distinctive approaches to their pastoral work. During his few years as pastor of Faichuk before his sudden death in 1929, Fr. Suarez spent much of his time building stone churches, one of which was the old church in Paata. Like Fr. Espinal in the Mortlocks, he was a firm believer in the attraction that elaborately designed churches had for non-Catholics. He also believed in ornate and very Spanish liturgical displays for feast days, it would appear from an account of Christmas in the Pwelle church. A band of 12 Chuukese musicians, outfitted in white trousers, blue sashes, coats, and sombreros, played Spanish folk songs on tambourines, harmonicas and castanets, marching in and out of church behind a standard-bearer as they did a rendition of "Adeste Fideles." In the afternoon his people watched a mock battle between characters made up as St. Michael and Satan. Fr. Hernandez, who was just beginning his years on Fefan, took a different approach. He urged people from more distant villages to set up small huts on and around the mission property so that they could celebrate feast days there with less inconvenience. The priest admitted that at times the mission land looked like a big playground, with swings, balls and other things for the amusement of the children. Fr. Hernandez himself was often surrounded by a ragtag band of singing children as he set off for a pastoral visit to some village. He thought of cheerfulness and joy as the hallmarks of a genuine Christian and rejected the solemn-faced piety that he saw as empty if not outright hypocritical. Yet he found time for older people as well as children; he was the first pastor to begin adult classes in addition to an elementary school.chk_08.jpg 3.27" x 2.18"
On Toloas, where Bishop Rego continued to serve as pastor, he and Br. Mancera spent much of the day dealing with Catholics from other places who had come to Toloas on business. These people stopped at the mission for all sorts of things: medicine, St. Ignatius water, medals and rosaries, or simply a blessing. Some came to repeat their request for a priest for their island or at least a short visit by one of the pastors on the mission boat. These last requests could not be handled as easily as the others; there were no spare priests in Chuuk, even with the addition of new personnel in 1927, and the chronic shortage of mission funds made it necessary to be sparing in the use of the San Ignacio, which cost six yen a day to operate. The bishop chatted with all who stopped by and offered them his crucifix to kiss before they took their leave. Despite his growing health problems, he followed the usual pastoral practice of giving short talks twice a day, after mass in the morning before the people began their morning prayer service and after rosary in the evening. He and the Catholic community of Toloas suffered a sad blow, however, when Br. Florencio Mancera, the bishop's longtime companion, died in May 1929 after a short illness. His death occurred within a few months of Fr. Ramon Suarez's; and Br. Victoriano Tudanca, who came to Chuuk that same year, followed them to the grave in 1932. All were buried on Toloas in the old mission cemetery.chk_09.jpg 2.04" x 1.96"
The church on Weno, which was so long in the opening, began to develop nicely under Fr. Jaime. From the very first there were a handful Catholics on the island, all of whom looked to Hilario Narruhn and Esteban for leadership. But after Fr. Jaime took up residence in a small house in Nepukos, the number of conversions multiplied rapidly. Each day the priest baptized several people after mass, and after merely two months on the island he had over 700 Catholics. Within the next year the number rose to about 1,000, almost one-half of the total population of Weno. Fr. Jaime's work on Weno was interrupted briefly in 1929 when he was reassigned to Yap, but he was back within a few months to continue his pastoral duties. With the help of Br. Espuny and Br. Casasayas, that indefatigable builder of churches, the priest set about establishing mission stations on the three pieces of land that the mission had bought on Weno. They set up a church at Tunnuk with a small house to accommodate the pastor on visits and then built a thatched chapel and a tiny residence at Winipis, the present site of Xavier. Within a few years they also had a chapel at Wichap to provide for the southern part of the island. The nearby island of Fono, which the priest visited once a month, also had its own small church. It was on his return from one of these visits that the priest's boat capsized and Fr. Jaime made it to shore clinging to a paddle while the mass kit he was carrying somehow floated to Weno and was later recovered.chk_10.jpg 2.41" x 3.39"
Perhaps the crowning achievement of these years on Weno was the construction and dedication of a new wooden church at Nepukos, then the main residence on the island. Built by Br. Casasayas and four Chuukese workmen, the small church was set on cement blocks and had an attractive belltower; it cost over 1,000 yen to build and was completed just a few days after a typhoon had ravaged the island. The building had symbolic meaning for the Catholic community on Weno, for the first church that had been attempted on Weno ended in the loss of life of a German brother and had only increased the bitterness between Catholics and Protestants on the island. The dedication of the new Nepukos church, held on December 8, 1935, was a cause for island-wide celebration. The solemn high mass celebrated by Bishop Rego was attended by Catholics and Protestants from every part of the island and beyond, but a special place of honor was accorded to Mailo and his two sons, the very people who at first opposed the establishment of the Catholic Church on Weno. The event was more than a celebration for the completion of a church building; it was a gesture of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants and a pledge of mutual tolerance in the future.
Missionary work in the outer islands continued intermittently during these years. Since Fr. Guasch's visits in 1925 and 1926, the islands were visited every year or two in the San Ignacio. Fr. Jaime and Br. Casasayas made the circuit in 1930 along with Esteban from Nepukos and Philip from Ulul. The usual shortages of funds and personnel made it impossible for the mission to send its own vessel out the following year, but Br. Casasayas, probably the most frequent visitor to these islands of any of the Jesuits, went on the Japanese steamer's field trip to see what he could do by himself. In 1934 he went again, this time with Fr. Espinal and a few catechists on the San Ignacio. Everywhere they went the children swarmed over their old friend Br. Casasayas, who played with them for a while and then got down to the serious business of teaching them to make the sign of the cross and say the Hail Mary. The old practices were still very much in evidence in the Western Islands–women were confined to menstrual houses, divination and fishing magic was performed, and many of the ancient taboos were observed–but the new religion was making some headway nonetheless. Pulap now at last had a small Catholic community numbering about 50, while Puluwat and Tamatam had already become heavily Christian. On Pulusuk the missionary party was breaking new ground since the island had never before been visited by a Catholic priest, and they left Rodolfo and Maria from Kuchua to live there as catechists for a year or so. The Namonwitos, which Fr. Espinal and his party visited next, were almost entirely Catholic by this time. The party did not visit any of the Hall Islands, but there was already a catechist at work on Fananu and word had reached the bishop that the island was ready to be converted en masse. Upon the next visit to the Halls a year or two later, 70 people from Fananu were baptized, a new church was under construction, and all signs pointed to the quick triumph of Catholicism on this island and the rest of the Halls.
In the Mortlocks conversions may have dropped off sharply, but the devotion of the people had intensified if anything. There were now 200 communicants each day on Lukunoch, which was proclaimed by a visiting Jesuit as a model community, "probably one of the most fervent in the history of the Christian missions." The Mortlocks were providing the crew for the mission boat and supplying catechists for many other parts of Chuuk. Even the German Liebenzell missionaries who arrived in the Mortlocks in 1927 could not disturb the tranquility of the two Jesuits working there, nor did they make any real inroads into the Catholic community. Religious lines were clearly drawn in each island by this time, and they would perdure to the present day.
In addition to its magnificent stone church, Lukunoch had a two-story residence and a school building made of coral block as well as a large meeting house of local materials. The mission in Lukunoch looked like what it was: the command post of the entire Mortlock Catholic Church. Despite the continuing migration of Mortlockese to Chuuk, the school on Lukunoch was filled. One of the girls who had returned from the Mercedarian boarding school on Pohnpei was teaching sewing and embroidery to the girls, and the Jesuits were eager to organize a regular school band, for which they requested trombones, flutes and other second-hand musical instruments from Spain. As it was, Fr. Espinal had already provided for a clarinet accompaniment to the hymns sung at rosary each evening in May.chk_11.jpg 4.40" x 2.99"
All the pastors in Chuuk would have liked to have had schools attached to their parishes, not just to teach catechism to children but to provide an academic education in a Christian environment that might produce future Christian leaders for the islands. By the early 1930s, however, the Japanese public school system, which had mandatory attendance requirements for all children within walking distance, had expanded to the point where this was impossible. Only on Fefan and Pwelle were the missionaries able to run boys' schools, and these could only hold classes in the afternoon when the children were free from public school. Still the missionaries held out hopes that someday they might have a school that could provide a Christian education for at least a few young Chuukese. When Sr. Margarita Maturana, the foundress of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz, visited Fauchuen on her journey to Pohnpei to open the first Mercedarian school there in 1928, she had picked up a stone and said, "May this stone be the cornerstone of the future convent for our sisters here."
It was 1936 when this dream was finally realized. A gift of 15,000 yen enabled Br. Casasayas, the veteran builder of the mission, to begin construction of the new concrete and wood school building. In June four Mercedarians arrived in Chuuk to staff the school as soon as the building was far enough along to furnish living space for the sisters. Among the first group of Mercedarians were Sr. Concepcion Bernaola, formerly the superior in Pohnpei and now transferred to Chuuk, and Sr. Ursula Matsunaga, the Saipan-born sister who spent over 20 years in Chuuk. Margarita School, as it was known in honor of the deceased foundress of the Mercedarians, was formally dedicated on October 1 of the same year in a ceremony that was attended by virtually all the Japanese dignitaries and local chiefs in Chuuk. The school had the blessings of the Japanese authorities since it took in largely older girls, many of whom had finished the Japanese elementary school and were to some extent able to speak Japanese. If the enrollment was small at first–20 boarding students and 45 day students–this was due to insufficient money to support more students rather than any lack of applicants. Within a year of the opening of the school Br. Casasayas began work on another building almost as massive as the first, this one to serve as a dormitory. The steel girders used in the new building were salvaged from the old German-built residence in Sopou, Pwelle.
By the time the new dormitory was finished, in December 1938, the enrollment had grown to 60 boarders and over 100 day students with a long waiting list. To care for the additional girls another four Mercedarians were assigned to the school in 1939. Besides their formal studies, with their emphasis on religion and what we would today call home economics, the girls cleaned the church, washed and sewed the altar linen, made hosts and bread, and taught catechism to the smaller girls attending the parish school. Four of the first group of girls to finish their three-year program founded an alumnae association known as the Teresitas (named for the boat on whichchk_12.jpg 2.78" x 1.91
"the schoolgirls visited lagoon islands), the forerunner of the Mwichen Mercedes, that met once a month for mass, rosary and a meeting. Another, Perpetua Hallers, entered the Mercedarian Congregation and became the first Chuukese girl to pronounce the vows of religious life. The ideals proposed by the Mercedarian sisters had already begun to have an impact on the lives of their former students.
Meeting New Challenges
Times were changing rapidly in Chuuk during the late 1930s. The Japanese administration had stepped up the pace of modernization of the islands during the decade as the Japanese colonial population grew to equal and then surpass the local population. Japanese and Okinawans were coming to Chuuk in such large numbers at this time, bringing their whiskey and beer with them, that some of the missionaries foresaw the gradual extinction of the Chuukese people. Modernization also meant new opportunities for a cash income, and large numbers of Chuukese were moving to Pohnpei to work on the new plantations or seeking wage labor on Toloas. For years the missionaries had thought of the shady side of the traditional culture–superstition, magic and permissive sexual mores–as the principal obstacle to the christianization of the islands; now they were discovering that more and more the challenge came from the secularization and materialism that rapid progress was bringing to the islands. On top of all this there were hints of war, and the mobilization of Chuukese for public projects was just beginning. This meant improved roads, canals and field trip service, but it also meant that people were far less free to attend church and school and religious instructions.
The mission had other problems too. The settlements of hard-drinking Okinawan fishermen on some of the islands were having an unfavorable effect on some of the communities. The church on Fanapanges, now surrounded by Okinawans, was poorly attended and in a sad state of disrepair. The Catholics of Parem, who found themselves in much the same situation, decided to move the church from its site and relocate it in a quieter part of the island. The church and residence in Sopou that had been built of iron and was once the pride of the mission had been woefully neglected since the pastor moved to Unifei ten years earlier and very few of the Catholics there took the trouble any longer to climb the hill to attend mass or rosary. In the hope that the community would regain some of its old fervor if the church were more accessible, the missionaries had Br. Casasayas tear down the old station and rebuild it near the shore. Everywhere the use of alcohol, which had always been prohibited to Chuukese, was on the upswing since liquor was now easily obtained through Okinawans living in the communities. On the eve of a feast day the pastor of Fefan was called out at night to separate the young men of two villages, armed with knives and ready to fight.
In addition, the mission found itself seriously short-handed once again. Bishop Rego's health was deteriorating so steadily that Fr. Berganza, the Jesuit Mission Superior, had to spend most of his time on Toloas looking after vicariate business. Bishop Rego, then 70 years old and his strength gone, was finally forced to resign his office in early 1939 and return to Spain, where he died in an automobile accident two years later. Moreover, with the transfer of Fr. Gregorio Fernandez to Pohnpei, Faichuk was without a pastor from 1936 on. This left only two priests, Fr. Jaime and Fr. Hernandez, to cover all of Chuuk–much the same situation that existed in the first years of Jesuit work in this mission except that now there were 9,000 Catholics instead of the 1,800 in 1921. While Fr. Hernandez remained on Fefan to oversee the school and carry out ordinary parish duties there and on Uman, Fr. Jaime became the roving missionary to the remainder of the lagoon. He had the responsibility of caring for Weno, Tol and Udot, along with their satellite islands, all of this without even the help of a brother to prepare his food and look after the residences. Transportation between the islands had improved greatly by that time, to be sure. Government motor boats made daily trips between the islands, and the mission had acquired as a replacement for its old sailboat a new launch with an inboard engine named the Santa Teresita. Even so, Fr. Jaime had an impossible task.chk_13.jpg 3.56" x 2.87"
Many of the communities had suffered from the lack of pastoral care resulting from the shortage of priests. Pwelle and Fanapanges might not have declined the way they did if there had been a priest able to spend time there. There was not a single Catholic left on Eot, an island that was once entirely Catholic; all had joined the Protestant church with its school and fulltime pastor. At a visit to Weno in 1938, Fr. Hernandez was dismayed to find no more than 50 people from the entire island attending Sunday mass, only a half dozen of them men. He was accustomed to having 200 or more communions on Fefan at a regular Sunday mass, with people coming from the remotest parts of the island to attend services. Everywhere except Fefan, Uman and Udot, there seemed to be a falling off in the fervor of church congregations, Fr. Hernandez noticed on his pastoral tour of all the lagoon islands. So sparse was the congregation in church that the priest was compelled to go from house to house afterwards to try to reawaken in people a sense of devotion.
Now more than ever the mission had to revert to its old strategy of utilizing catechists in the villages to instruct and inspire the people. Indeed, those communities that retained their vitality and devotion were usually places blessed with a strong and effective local catechist. Romanum and Onei both had very able catechists who kept alive the fervor of their people, while a young man from Weno was working wonders on Piis in the short time he had been there. The Chamorro catechist on Fananu, who had long since converted the island, was building a new chapel and collecting money to buy the old mission ship for the island. But even where good catechists could be found, there was still the problem of finding the money to pay them. Even a catechist in a small community would require at least five yen and a sack of rice monthly, but the civil war that was fought in Spain from 1936 to 1939 cut seriously into gifts and other income upon which the mission depended so heavily. Missionary letters during this period were filled with urgent appeals for funds to provide for catechists.
Meanwhile, Fr. Jaime traveled almost without stop for two years, doing the best he could under the limitations of funding and time. Fr. Hernandez, for his part, was busy preparing for publication a revision of his Chuukese summary of Catholic doctrine. As he saw it, his book would at least partially supply for the lack of trained catechists in the islands; it would be a "wandering catechist that passes from hand to hand and provides solid doctrine." The book was published under the title Katekismus en Lamalam, together with his explanation of the Sunday gospels (Puipuin Soulang), and a prayer book (Saramen Soulang), and Fr. Jaime's collection of bible stories (Uruon Pin). But the real wandering catechist turned out to be Fr. Hernandez himself when, in 1940, he switched assignments with Fr. Jaime and so became pastor of almost of all Chuuk.
By 1940 Chuuk was clearly mobilizing for war. For the past year or two Fr. Jaime had lamented the lack of religious fervor among the people, who were now conscripted by the Japanese for daily heavy labor, and from his new residence on Fefan he watched Margarita School languish as students dropped out to attend to family work needs. The price of rice was now so high that Br. Casasayas had to abandon his other building projects in order to travel from island to island begging food for the boarding students. Meanwhile, the Japanese authorities issued an ominous announcement to all missionaries that any of them who desired to leave Chuuk must do so before the end of March 1940. All chose to remain where they were and assist their people in the critical days ahead. The mission was in effect leaderless at this time, for Fr. Berganza, who was appointed administrator of the vicariate at the departure of Bishop Rego, had gone to Japan on business and was not permitted to return to the islands.
Japanese troops were arriving in ever larger numbers to fortify the great naval base in Chuuk, which once again became the Japanese administrative center for the entire Mandate. Fr. Hernandez complained of the frightful noise of the military exercises that were conducted close to the mission on Toloas all day long. Japanese authorities approached the mission about land transfers, for they wanted church land on Weno and Toloas. Through the intervention of friendly Japanese officials, the church was allowed to retain the mission property on Toloas, at least for a time. But it was forced to surrender its land at Nepukos and the mission property in Winipis, which at that time was used as an out-station for mass in Sapuk. Construction was immediately begun on the radio communications station that now serves as the main building of Xavier High School. The missionaries were already subject to some travel restrictions: they had to obtain special permission from the government whenever they made a visit in the Teresita. They had no doubt that they would be placed under even stricter controls in the months ahead, and hence took the opportunity to prepare their Christian communities to fend for themselves.
The Mercedarians and their students at Margarita School were celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception when they were told, on December 8, 1941, that war had been declared. A Japanese military officer curtly ordered the sisters to call a halt to the celebration and whisked the girls away to collect stones and dirt for a road that was under construction. The Jesuits were not as fortunate. Four of them–Frs. Hernandez and Jaime and Brs. Espuny and Casasayas–were picked up by the Japanese military and imprisoned in Toloas on charges of sending signals to the enemy by lamplight at night. Only Br. Santana was left free, probably so that he might supply his companions with food during their time in prison. This he did faithfully three times a day, and the Mercedarian sisters frequently brought food as well. Br. Casasayas was released after just a few days, while Fr. Jaime and Br. Espuny spent two months in jail. Fr. Hernandez, who was especially suspect because he had been sending barometric readings to the Jesuits at the Manila Observatory, remained in jail for four months before his conditional release.
When the Jesuits were released, they were instructed to move their principal residence on Toloas to a new location on the other side of Enin where the Japanese had already begun preparing a small house and chapel for them. During the few months that the new residence was being prepared, the priests were free to visit the parishes; but by September 1942 the new quarters were finished and the Jesuits were confined there under house arrest. The Mercedarians, who had to disband the girls in their school, were ordered by Japanese authorities to leave Chuuk for Pohnpei where food was more abundant. Six of them, together with their aspirant Perpetua Hallers, departed in late September on a Japanese ship that somehow arrived safely at its destination although it was torpedoed and sunk on its return to Chuuk. With the sisters gone and the Jesuits confined to Toloas, the religious life of the Christian communities was entirely in the hands of the catechists and other church leaders. This was to remain the case until the end of the war.
In May 1943, Fr. Espinal and Br. Arizaleta were taken off the Mortlocks and sent to Chuuk to join the other Jesuits, who were now subjected to bombing raids in their exposed house not too far from anti-aircraft batteries. Within a few months Brs. Cassayas and Arizaleta were sent to Pohnpei because of illness. Soon afterwards, the missionaries' house was hit by an incendiary bomb and burned to the ground; even those few possessions that the Jesuits had hidden away were found to be destroyed by the humidity. For a month or so the Jesuits lived as best they could in a small hut that some Mortlockese companions of theirs threw up, until finally the government acceded to their request to transfer their residence to Udot, an island less exposed to the bombings since it had few military targets. There they lived on the property of the Irons family, who provided for them in many ways throughout the remainder of the war. Food reserves by this time were exhausted and the Catholics of Udot, as generous as they were to the Jesuits, had little to offer them since they themselves were on the edge of starvation. The five missionaries, priests as well as brothers, cultivated what they could on their small plot of land; they ate the tapioca, corn, beans and bananas that they grew by their own hand. Although they were not permitted to say mass publicly, they had managed to store a small amount of flour in bottles and conserve the remainder of their wine so that they had the consolation of mass together each day. When the Japanese transported some 1,200 Nauruans to Chuuk to live on Totiw, one of the two priests who accompanied them died soon afterwards of malnutrition as did several hundred of his people. The other remained with the Jesuit community on Udot until the end of the war.
When peace was restored to Chuuk in late 1945, the mission was in ruins. All that remained of Br. Casasayas' buildings on Fefan were the walls of the church and a part of the sisters' convent. The magnificent coral church that Fr. Espinal and Br. Arizaleta had erected on Lukunoch was a heap of rubble, as were the residence and school. Virtually nothing survived of the handiwork of the brothers who had spent 20 years setting up the churches and rectories that were the foundation of the Chuuk mission. But material damages were only a part of the loss suffered during the war years. The newly established Catholic communities, none of them more than three decades old, had been untended for four years. The missionary efforts in the post-war years would be aimed at restoring these to their previous condition and building up once again a flourishing Catholic church in Chuuk.
Another war meant another change in the administration of the islands. In September 1945 following the formal Japanese surrender of Chuuk aboard the USS Portland, the American Navy set up a military government on Weno with its base in Mechetiw. American military officers were even more eager than the Japanese had been 30 years earlier to see the Catholic church entrusted to missionaries of their own nationality. Hence, an American Jesuit, Fr. Vincent Kennally, was soon named as the new Apostolic Administrator of the Vicariate of the Caroline and Marshall Islands. The Marianas, formerly a part of the mission, were transferred to the Vicariate of Guam. In a series of official church decrees, the vicariate was placed under the papal representative in Washington, entrusted to Jesuits from all parts of the US, and finally handed over to the care of the New York Province Jesuits. The American military at first wanted to repatriate all the Spanish missionaries and replace them with Americans, but church authorities intervened on behalf of the Spanish personnel. The six Spanish Jesuits in Chuuk at the end of the war were seasoned veterans,chk_14.jpg 2.57" x 2.81
"each with about 20 years experience in the island group, and their expertise was needed in rebuilding the church in those post-war years. Besides, the recruitment of enough American Jesuits to staff the islands would take some time. In the end, the US military conceded that the Spanish Jesuits and Mercedarians would remain, provided that Americans be appointed as superiors wherever possible.
Fr. Kennally first arrived in Chuuk in January 1946 to survey the mission and meet the Spanish Jesuits at work there. He found them staffing the parishes once again and continuing the pastoral activity that had been interrupted by the war. Fr. Jaime and Br. Espuny were on Fefan, Fr. Hernandez and Br. Santana were on Weno, and Fr. Espinal and Br. Martin were located on Udot. The rectories, which had all been greatly damaged in the bombing, were hastily repaired or replaced with temporary quarters. Fr. Kennally was soon off again and spent most of the remainder of the year traveling, but in his absence a second American Jesuit, Fr. Edwin McManus, arrived in Chuuk and began studying the language. In the meantime, Br. Casasayas, the man who constructed nearly all the mission buildings in Chuuk during Japanese times, had returned to Chuuk to begin rebuilding what had been destroyed in the war. By the end of the year he had almost finished putting up a wooden church in Tunnuk, now the central mission residence in Chuuk. Since building materials were scarce, he constructed the new church from lumber taken from the buildings on Toloas used to house Japanese prisoners prior to their repatriation.
Six Mercedarian sisters were back in Chuuk by August 1946 to resume their work in the educational apostolate. With Margarita School now in ruins, the sisters had neither a classroom building nor convent and were forced to linger for several months on Udot, for want of quarters anywhere else, in a house that Eister Irons furnished for them. By January 1947 the decision was made to relocate the Mercedarian school at Tunnuk and callchk_15.jpg 2.87" x 3.17
"it Cecilia School after the Superior General of their congregation. Classes were begun almost immediately in a provisional building, while Br. Casasayas started work on a new convent and dormitory. These buildings, like the Tunnuk church, were to be put up of wood salvaged from Toloas that the government allowed the mission to take. Although the new buildings were not completed until 1949. the sisters somehow managed to find room to board 50 girls, almost as many as Margarita School had been able to handle. Like Margarita School, St. Cecilia School was primarily aimed at providing a thorough Christian education for boarding students, who would participate in the religious life of the convent even as they studied the usual courses. But there were day students in growing numbers as well, for a thirst for education was sweeping the islands in these early post-war years.
With the parishes of Weno, Fefan and Udot now operating, the Jesuits next turned their attention to Tol. On a visit to that island at Christmas 1947, Fr. McManus, now the Jesuit Superior in Chuuk, decided that the sprawling parish with its many distant stations needed a large central church and residence that was within walking or boating distance from all sections of the island. Accordingly, he exchanged the mission site at Pwellechk_16.jpg 2.93"" x 2.72
"that had once been the main residence for a piece of land at Netutu. Br. Casasayas, who had by this time finished his work on Cecilia School, was sent there to begin building the large church and rectory, a project that was completed in time for Holy Week services in 1948. Fr. George McGowan, who arrived in the mission at about that time, was promptly assigned as pastor of Tol. A small school was soon opened in the parish uut and classes conducted by the pastor after the fashion of the old Spanish Jesuit schools that were being run even then on Fefan and Udot.
Construction of other mission buildings continued under the direction of Br. Casasayas, now tired and ailing. The small Jesuit residence at Tunnuk was replaced by a larger quonset hut that was later equipped with flush toilets and showers. The Nepukos church, totally destroyed during the war, was rebuilt about the same time, and a wing was added to the church at Tunnuk. A new classroom building was constructed for Cecilia School and work was begun on a school on Toloas. In addition to all this, Br. Casasayas was sent to repair the rectories on Fefan and Udot and rebuild the smaller chapels in the outstations on some of the islands. With regular shipping restored and contributions now flowing from the US to supplement the aid that the navy was already furnishing the mission, the Jesuits could begin rebuilding in earnest.chk_17.jpg 4.19" x 2.87"
The outer islands were still receiving only sporadic visits from the priests as occasion offered. When Fr. McManus made a pastoral visit to the Namonuitos in early 1947, he learned that he was the first priest to set foot on the island in 13 years. During the long absence of a priest, the Catholics on the island had been sustaining their devotion by meeting for rosary and prayers each day. Thereafter, the missionaries tried to visit the Namonuitoschk_18.jpg 3.26" x 2.96
"and Western Islands once or twice a year; and on one of these pastoral visits a small rectory was put up on Puluwat and temporary chapels were opened on ten of the islands in all. Even the Mortlocks, which had a resident priest throughout Japanese times, were without priestly care for four years until Fr. Espinal, fittingly enough, made a trip there in late 1947. Although Fr. Espinal visited his beloved Mortlocks once more the following year, a permanent return to these islands was unthinkable because of the difficulty he had traveling at his age. To remedy this situation, Fr. William Rively, a new arrival in Chuuk, was assigned to care for the outer islands. In the course of one of his visits to the atolls–his first trip to the Mortlocks, in November 1949–he was caught in a typhoon while at sea in an outrigger canoe, driven off course and lost at sea for three days. It was 12 days in all before he returned to Chuuk, and the experience convinced him and his superiors of the need for a sea-going ship that could be used for excursions to the outer islands. Two years later, in August 1951, Fr. Rively and a small crew brought the schooner Romance, soon to be renamed the Star of the Sea, through the pass and into an anchorage off Tunnuk amid the cheers and songs of well-wishers. Fr. John Fahey, the next Jesuit priest to arrive in Chuuk, shared with Fr. Rively the responsibility for the outer islands for the next few years until the area was finally divided into two parishes. Each of the two men served the outer islands for more than 35 years.
Personnel changes were rapidly making Chuuk an American Jesuit mission in fact as well as theory. The old Spanish priests and brothers, who had served so long and well in the mission prior to the war, were clearly exhausted by the effort that the post-war rebuilding process required of them. Br. Santana left Chuuk for Spain in 1947 and Br. Martin departed six years later. Br. Casasayas, that master builder and engineer, returned to Spain in 1950, a year after his American counterpart, Br. John Walter, was assigned to Chuuk where he would carry on the construction work that Casasayas had begun. Br. Pedro Espuny died in Chuuk in 1950 and was buried in the church cemetery on Fefan, while Fr. Espinal was forced by illness to leave the following year and died in the Philippines within months of his departure. After 1955, the year in which Fr. Hernandez left for Europe, there was only a single Spanish Jesuit left in Chuuk–Fr. Jaime Battle, who continued as the pastor of Fefan. In the meantime, American Jesuits were trickling into the mission. Besides Frs. McGowan, Rively and Fahey, Fr. John Hoek joined the mission in 1950; and Brs. Paul Acer and Raymond Whelan were sent out to assist with the mission ship during the next two years. Although Fr. McManus was transferred to Palau and Fr. Kennally about to be reassigned to the Philippines, the American staff was growing in numbers and experience.
Even after the departure of Br. Casasayas, the building fever continued in Chuuk. Many of the cement churches still in use today were begun during the early 1950s: St. Michael's on Uman, St. Francis of Asissi on Udot, St. Clara on Fanapanges, Sacred Heart on Piis, and St. Ignatius on Fono, in addition to the four village chapels on Fefan. Most of these were constructed of coral block plastered with cement, the style favored by the Spanish mission builders. They were designed and built for the most part by Chuukese craftsmen who had worked with Br. Casasayas. Improvements were also made on the mission schools. The ruins of the old Margarita school were used as the foundation for the boys school on Fefan that came to be called St. Thomas School. By 1952 the school had over 100 students, more than any of the public schools on the island. Meanwhile, on land that had recently been purchased in Tunnuk, Br. Walter had already begun work on the new classroom building and convent for Cecilia School that are still being used today. Cecilia School was prospering: it had an enrollment of over 200 students, including 90 boarders, and an old bus brought students to and from school each day.
The parishes were still rather loosely organized during these transitional years. With most of the seasoned Spanish missionaries gone, the American priests provided spiritual care for nearly all of the lagoon islands through short visits. Only on Fefan, where Fr. Jaime served as pastor, and Weno were there resident priests. Fr. McGowan had been the nominal pastor of Tol since 1948, but he was forced by illness and other responsibilities to spend as much time away as on the island. Even when he was replaced as pastor there after his reassignment to Weno to become superior of Chuuk, the situation was little improved. As happened once before during the 1920s, Tol had a string of short-term pastors who had little time to develop a successful parish program until the assignment of Fr. Hoek to the parish in 1957. As for Udot and the rest of Nomwisofo, the departure of Fr. Espinal in 1950 meant the end of a resident priest there, and the islands were handled by the parish staff on Weno for years afterwards. Toloas, the site of the first Catholic church in Chuuk and the residence of the bishop throughout the 1920s and 1930s, had been demoted to an out-station since the end of the war. It was visited only once or twice a month until Fr. Gerald Cuddy was stationed there in 1955.chk_20.jpg 3.12" x 2.22"
Yet there were signs of a remarkable spiritual vitality in the church despite the difficulties. Fr. Hernandez was teaching religion to students of the government operated Pacific Island Teacher Training School (PITTS), the highest level of formal education available to Micronesians in those days. He also inaugurated the Mwichen Apostolado on Weno, holding meetings after the Sunday mass in different villages by rotation, a practice that continues to the present time. The mwich proved to be both a source of inspiration for Catholics and a successful means of upgrading the knowledge of church lay leaders. Within a short time the Mwichen Apostolado was holding large inter-parish meetings. One of the first, held at Sapore, Fefan, in December 1950, was attended by 1,500 people representing nearly all the islands in the lagoon. Public displays of religious belief were an important feature in the life of the Catholic communities and the priests made good use of them. There were candlelight processions on First Fridays, and for the opening of a new chapel at Iras on Weno Catholics processed from the churches at Nepukos and Tunnuk, meeting at the site of the chapel for a formal dedication ceremony. At a gigantic two-day mwich in August 1951 that was attended by people from all over Chuuk, visitors were met at the dock and led in procession to the Tunnuk church, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed all night as parish groups sang and prayed, and after a solemn high mass the Chuuk Mission was formally consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Mercedarian sisters began going from village to village giving extensive catechetical instruction, while the priests continued giving retreats to lay groups throughout the lagoon. The number of adult converts on Tol alone averaged 80 a year at this time, in good measure due to the zeal of catechists such as Michael from Wonei and Rokop from Foup.
Even during these early years Xavier turned out far more civil servants than priests or catechists, but there was one striking example of the apostolic outreach of its students. During the summer vacation in 1955, a 20-year old student by the name of Hermes Katsura was sent to Murilo, an island that had long resisted all efforts of missionaries, both Spanish and American, to establish a church there. The island chief had recently sent a message to Fr. McGowan to inform him that the people of the island were now ready to hear an explanation of the faith. When young Hermes arrived, the people of Murilo were clearly disappointed that a mere boy had been chosen to instruct their island in the mysteries of the Catholic religion. Since the people refused to approach Hermes for instruction, he began conducting classes for the children each day and gradually introduced them to bible stories and Catholic hymns. In time small groupschk_21.jpg 3.86" x 2.48
"of adults, and then larger ones, began appearing outside of the classroom to listen to what he was telling the children. After a few weeks of this, the island chief met with the elders and they decided to formally request the young Xavier student to instruct them in the faith. By the end of the summer, when a priest finally showed up at the island, 65 people had been completely prepared for baptism and the rest were received into the church a month or two later.
The picture in the rest of the Hall Islands was much less bright, however. Nomwin, an island that had once been the glory of the Spanish missionaries due to the charismatic efforts of the Chamorro catechist Manuel, had abandoned Catholicism when a Liebenzell missionary began making regular visits there some years earlier. There remained only a handful of Catholics under the care of their old and increasingly ineffective leader. Fananu, which the Spanish priests once thought was ready to embrace Catholicism, remained strongly Protestant, as did Ruo. The Namonuitos were a different story; they remained entirely Catholic under the strong and able leadership of Felipe, the Carolinian who was long-time catechist on Ulul, and visiting priests found the spirit good there. The Western Islands too presented an encouraging picture. Peter Naich, the Mortlockese catechist who had come up to the islands in 1948, had supervised the building of churches on Punlap and some of the other islands, and with the assistance of Alois, another Mortlockese catechist, had fashioned fervent little communities on each of the islands. Only on Puluwat was there any sizable group of non-Catholics due to the efforts of a Kosraean pastor who came there to live in 1948 and who had considerable success in his work.
The Mortlocks, in the meantime, now once again had a resident pastor in the person of Fr. Rively. Even before his assignment to the Mortlocks in 1952, he had begun rebuilding the church on Lukunoch as well as those on Satawan and Ettal. In an unusual but imaginative ploy, he asked each of the Catholics on the island to prepare a cement block or two with his own hands so that the church would indeed belong to his people. Soon he also had under construction a school on Lukunoch that opened in September 1956. For a time Fr. Rively continued to captain the Star of the Sea, but in 1955 Br. Ray Whalen was appointed the skipper of the mission vessel so that Fr. Rively would be free for pastoral work. The Star had several close calls in those years: it was pulled off the reef by a government ship within a year of its first appearance in Chuuk and it survived an explosion in the engine room on another occasion. But perhaps its most well known near disaster occurred in December 1953 when it went on the reef a few miles south of Chuuk. When all efforts to pull it off proved fruitless, men from the Toloas Mwichen Vicente volunteered to try to save the vessel. For two months they hauled the boat by winch and muscle power across the reef foot by foot until they finally got the Star afloat again. The schooner, which was then triumphantly towed into Weno by Fr. Fahey's motorboat, served the mission for another 25 years afterwards.
The build-up of the mission continued on into the middle 1950s. Nowhere was this more evident than in Tol, where Fr. Holland served a short stint as pastor in 1955-56. He transformed the temporary church, built only a few years before, into a classroom building and began work on the present Assumption Church. The Mercedarian Sisters took over the running of the school in September 1955, providing for boarders as well as day students from around the island. Soon the school had an enrollment of over 200 pupils with a staff made up of both Mercedarians and their former students from Margarita and Cecilia Schools. Like their colleagues on Weno, the three sisters working at St. Julia School also carried out catechetical instruction in several villages of the parish. At the same time on the opposite side of the lagoon, Fr. Cuddy was just beginning to build the present large rectory on Toloas, probably with an eye to turning it over to sisters if any could be found to teach in the parish school. None were, however, since the Mercedarian sisters were heavily enough committed in running two schools.chk_22.jpg 4.48" x 3.83"
Bishop Feeney, always a strong supporter of Catholic education, was showing signs of serious illness in January 1955 when he was sent back to the US where he died of a brain tumor some months later. It was nearly two years after his departure from the mission before a successor was named, but Rome eventually chose Fr. Kennally, the American Jesuit who had served as apostolic administrator after the war and had been most instrumental in rebuilding the mission. Kennally was recalled from the Philippines, where he had been Vice-Provincial of the Jesuits, and was consecrated bishop on March 12, 1957. Soon afterwards he was in Chuuk administering the vicariate with his characteristic energy and pastoral zeal. Although he had his office at Xavier, he continued filling in for absent pastors when he could and traveled widely, even to the most remote islands of the mission. Within a year of his appointment, he made an episcopal visit on the Star of the Sea to 20 of the outer islands in Chuuk the first such visit ever for some of them.
A Deepening Sense of Church
The organization and pastoral care of the parishes was becoming stabilized now, thanks in part to the influx of American Jesuits during these years. Fr. Fahey, who in earlier years not only helped care for the outer islands but also provided temporary service for the lagoon, was put in charge of the Westerns, Namonuitos and Halls in 1956. Immediately he set about establishing catechists on islands where none had existed before and building permanent churches to replace the thatch huts that served as chapels on many of his islands. With Fr. Allen Cameron assigned to Xavier as principal in 1957, Fr. Hoek was free to take over as pastor of Tol, where he soon completed the church that had been begun a few years earlier and started work on a new school building that was dedicated in 1965. Fr. John Nicholson was transferred to Chuuk from Pohnpei in 1959 and was made pastor of Toloas. There he demonstrated his construction skills by finishing the residence that Fr. Cuddy had started, beginning work on the new school building, and training a crew of local builders who some years later put up three additional buildings at Xavier. When Fr. McGowan was transferred to Pohnpei in 1957, Fr. Rively was moved up from the Mortlocks to replace him as local Jesuit superior and pastor of Weno, with Fr. William Farrell taking over the care of the Mortlocks. A year later Fr. Rively was also named the Jesuit Mission Superior, and for a time actually held all three jobs until Fr. Jack Fogelsanger, another new arrival, relieved him of much of the parish responsibilities in 1960. Work on the two-story Cecilia School building and convent was completed in 1958, but the construction of the new cathedral, now in its sixth year, dragged on as the state of mission finances permitted. When Fr. Rively returned to the Mortlocks in 1961 to replace Fr. Farrell, who was taken sick, Fr. Fogelsanger became both pastor and local Jesuit superior.
Travel around the lagoon had become much easier by this time. The days were long past when missionaries caught rides on sailing canoes; even Fr. Jaime now had his own boat and ten-horsepower engine. The relative ease of transportation now made it possible to carry on centralized catechetical training on a district-wide basis, something that would have been impractical in earlier days. In 1955 an annual two-week summer school for catechists was initiated at Xavier to upgrade the training of Chuukese lay leaders. The formation of good catechists, as important then as ever before, was given new impetus by this step. The program was successful enough to be continued for the next 30 years.chk_23.jpg 3.53" x 2.64"
All the while visible changes were sweeping the islands, not all of them for the better. Back in the early 1950s the missionaries were already complaining of the widespread drinking on their islands and the fights it was causing. More than one church mwich had ended prematurely in a brawl. Gambling, which had formerly been an occasional male pastime, now took a new form in bingo, a game ironically introduced by the missionaries as a family recreation. To check these abuses the Mwichen Asor was founded, and it spread rapidly throughout many of the parishes. Church youth groups, Mwichen serafo, also began to proliferate in an effort to channel the energies of the young and provide for their growth in the faith. Gradually these groups took their place alongside the women's group, Mwichen Maria, and the Mwichen Apostolato for adult church leaders, parish organizations that still play a great part in enkindling the religious devotion of Chuukese Catholics. Yet even as these parish structures were introduced or revived, the day of the large inter-parish display of piety was passing. More than 1,600 Catholics had gathered at Xavier for two days in July 1956 to mark the solemn conclusion of the Ignatian Year in the kind of celebration that was common in the early post-war years. But there were fewer and fewer of these occasions in the 1960s, an era of slow parish build-up and church reform.chk_24.jpg 4.48" x 3.01"
Church priorities were changing in the early 1960s in accord with the times. Education remained one of the main thrusts of the church in Chuuk, and classes in parish schools on Weno, Toloas, Fefan, Tol and Lukunoch swelled to capacity with a total enrollment of 700 elementary school children. In addition, of course, Xavier High School was providing a superior secondary education for some of the most talented young men in the Trust Territory. Although these schools, like the earlier ones run by the Spanish priests, continued to provide a strong religious component, they had broader aims as well. They were attempting to provide the basic skills that young people would need if they were to make their way in the modern world that was rapidly transforming island society. At a time when public schools were still poorly organized and teachers undertrained, the Catholic elementary schools were recognized as the best in the islands. Moreover, the girls boarding schools on Tol and Weno were producing vocations in considerable numbers at this time. By the early 1960s there were more than a dozen Chuukese girls who were preparing to take or had already taken their first vows as Mercedarians.
Another priority then emerging in church work was the social apostolate. Appalled at the lack of income on one of the islands he served, Fr. Fogelsanger distributed fishing lines to the people and founded the Piis Fishing Cooperative in 1960. Other cooperatives and credit unions followed, and within a few years the groundwork was laid for the church-run Social Action Center. In time the center developed a life of its own, with able assistance from Monica Kincho, and eventually formed the successful Federation of Fishing Coops and built a refrigeration facility for fish brought to market by local fishermen. In time its name was changed to the Apostolic Center and its range of activities was expanded to include such diverse projects as ferro-cement boat-building, natural family planning, radio program production, and translation of the Scriptures into Chuukese. Meanwhile, Fr. Andrew Connolly and other pastors founded cooperatives of their own as part of their parish work, now seen as embracing the full human development of the community as the underpinnings for genuine religious growth. Although very few of these early economic development attempts survived, this vision of broader church service was reaffirmed in the Second Vatican Council and remains the basis of missionary service in the islands.
The changes that were issuing from the Vatican Council also required implementation, and this would demand an enormous investment of time and energy on the part of church leaders. The liturgical changes alone were considerable–first, dialogue masses in place of the age-old recitation of prayers and hymn singing throughout the mass; and then the translation of the entire liturgy into the local language. But there were other attitudinal changes that were no less difficult to implement: an ecumenical sense of cooperation with other Christian churches, a broader and less legalistic view of the sacraments, a view of the church as a beacon to all rather than merely the ark of salvation for some. Priests and people struggled with these changes for years afterwards and indeed struggle with them still.
But there were other changes during these years as well. Fr. Jaime Battle, the long-time pastor of Fefan and last of the Spanish Jesuits in Chuuk, died in his parish in March 1965 after 29 years of missionary work in Chuuk. He was buried in the cemetery next to the church in a ceremony attended by hundreds of Christians representing all the islands of thechk_25.jpg 4.04" x 2.96"
lagoon. Fr. Andrew Connolly, who had returned to Chuuk in 1961 to assist him on Fefan, succeeded him as pastor. At about the same time Fr. George McGowan was reassigned to Chuuk and appointed local superior and pastor of Weno parish, replacing Fr. Fogelsanger, who was now free to carry on his social ministry and parish work from the newly built warehouse at Nepukos that served as his office.
Xavier High School, meanwhile, was marking transitions of its own. Shortly after Fr. Jack Curran arrived in 1967 to take over the principalship from Fr. Cameron, two new classroom buildings, a large chapel and student toilet facilities were opened. This permitted the expansion of the enrollment, now more heavily Chuukese than in its earlier years, to well over 100. While Br. Paul Acer continued to look after the maintenance of the facilities, a job that he held for nearly 20 years, the teaching staff was enlarged with the addition of Jesuit priests assigned to the school on a short-term basis. The priests who served on the staff during these years included Frs. John Nash, Robert O'Connell, Richard Roszel, William Suchan, and Edward Guth. With its larger faculty the school improved its curriculum and added to the range of activities that it offered students.
Prospects for the mission elementary schools, however, were not as bright by this time. Although Bishop Kennally had once promised sisters for the parish schools on Fefan and Toloas, it soon became apparent that the heyday of the Catholic elementary school had passed. The 1960s saw a tremendous build-up in the public school system; new schools were opened on every island and staffed in part by American contract teachers and Peace Corps volunteers. Catholic schools, lacking the resources to improve facilities and teaching staffs, found their enrollments dropping in most places. Moreover, the number of Mercedarian sisters available for the classroom began to fall off sharply as younger Micronesian sisters were sent away to college or left the institute. Meanwhile, many of the older Spanish sisters who had served so long and so well in the mission schools returned home, often without replacements. Srs. Pilar Lorenzo, Angelica Salvarria, Mercedes Lamiquiz, Dolores Larranaga, Fermina Aguirreamalloa, Ursula Matsunaga and Maria Paz Sanchez–all of whom had given many years to Chuuk–were among the Mercedarians who left the mission during this period. Within the next few years the Catholic schools on Toloas and Lukunoch would close altogether, while the school on Fefan would be forced to cut back sharply. Yet St. Cecilia School and St. Julia School, both with new facilities, remained flourishing apostolates for the Mercedarians, even though these two schools had reached the limits of their expansion. A much smaller staff of sisters–including Srs. Dolores Mendoza, Pilar Latasa, Purificacion Martinez, Asuncion Demapan, Magdalena Narruhn, and Perpetua Hallers–working with Chuukese lay teachers, continued the fine educational work in both schools.
The arrival of additional Jesuit priests–notably Frs. John Doolan, Kenneth Hezel, and John Morrison–brought the number of pastors to a peak that has not been equalled since. In the rotation of pastors that occurred in 1969, there were enough men to assign a full-time pastor (Fr. McGowan) to Nomwisofo, which had not had a resident priest since Fr. Espinal's departure in 1950. A year or two later the Namonuitos received a pastor of their own for the first time as Fr. Morrison took up residence on Ulul. Fr. Nicholson began his long tenure as pastor of Fefan, while Frs. Doolan and Connolly began much shorter ones on Toloas and Tol respectively. Meanwhile, just two years after the dedication of the new cathedral at Tunnuk and as work was progressing on the new two-story residence there, Fr. Ken Hezel was installed as pastor of Weno and local superior of the Jesuits in Chuuk.
The leadership of the church in the vicariate was changing hands at this same time. In February 1970 Bishop Martin Neylon, who had just served as the first director of St. Ignatius House on Guam, was raised to the episcopacy and appointed coadjutor to Bishop Kennally. Two years later, at Bishop Kennally's retirement, Bishop Neylon assumed full responsibility for the vicariate. He moved his office from Xavier, which for 20 years had been the episcopal residence, to Tunnuk where it remained until his retirement. One of his first major tasks was to implement the mission-wide planning that had been carried on over a two-year period at the Vicariate Pastoral Planning Council. The recommendations of this council represented a new direction in church work: a move towards collaboration among pastors, and between pastors and laity, to address what were felt to be the major problem areas in Micronesia. A common vision of the church and a plan as to how it might best serve the needs of the Micronesian people were drawn up, and vicariate-wide offices for catechetics, media, and human development were established for the first time.
Among the new offices spawned by the VPPC was a research- pastoral institute that went under the name of the Micronesian Seminar. This office, headed by Fr. Francis Hezel, was given the mandate of helping people in and out of the church to grow in their awareness of the key issues that were currently facing them as individuals and communities. The Micronesian Seminar, then operating out of Xavier High School, began a series of annual conferences on various issues attended by participants from all parts of Micronesia. It also produced papers addressing issues such as political status, economic development, and education. In more recent years the Micronesian Seminar has turned towards social problems, especially those affecting young people, and has supervised an inter-island youth network run by Innocente Oneisom and Mariano Marcus, two Chuukese Xavier graduates.Towards a Chuukese Church
In the meantime, the church in Chuuk faced its perennial problem of how to go about training catechists and other religious leaders. The task was all the more urgent in the wake of the theological and pastoral changes that had issued from Vatican II. To meet this need, Fr. Ken Hezel, who served as coordinator of inter-parish work as well as pastor of Weno, revived the annual summer school for catechists from all the parishes andchk_26.jpg 4.43" x 3.42
"began holding shorter monthly meetings during the year as well. At these sessions lay religious leaders received an updating in pastoral theology and practice. There were week-long workshops as well for those teaching religion to public school children in the parishes. The result of these efforts was a structure that for 15 years served to bring lay leaders in close regular contact with one another as they were being instructed. By the mid-1970s the Chuukese church, like its sister church in Pohnpei, had developed a mobile team program in which groups of lay leaders went to one village after another to present a week-long series of reflections on a pre-selected theme.chk_27.jpg 3.72" x 2.48"
Better-informed catechists and a laity prepared to assume more responsibility for their church were a large part of the thrust of church work during these years and culminated in the ordination of Chuukese deacons. The deacon training program begun in 1973 was in fact an outgrowth of the other religious training programs that were being carried on at that time. As ordained ministers commissioned to preach the gospel, deacons were a fitting sign that the church in Chuuk was coming of age. If Chuukese could provide religious leadership for their communities, as they had been doing for years, and if they could instruct others in mwich and mobile team, there was no reason why they should not receive the Sacrament of Orders and attain the highest level of the clerical state that was then permitted to married men. In April 1977, after more than three years of training, eight men were ordained to the diaconate: Andreas Nimas, Nori Oneitam, Tobias Soram, Wangko Wasan, Antasio Rousan, Marcello Hartmann, Kintin Rawit, and Roke Rokop. Five years later, Carlos Kaneuo was also ordained a deacon. Immediately they were put to work, most in their own parishes, although Deacons Carlos and Marcello were sent to work in the Halls, Deacon Kintin served on Wonei and Tol, and Deacon Wangko spent some years assisting the Weno parish.
Other types of vocations too were beginning to bloom. For years the Mercedarian sisters had been drawing young girls into the convent through their schools. Even though many later chose to leave, women like Sr. Josefa Hashiguchi, who died in 1986, remained as models and sources of inspiration for others. At present, besides three older Chuukese Mercedarian sisters, there are several Chuukese girls in various of Mercedarian training and two more girls from the Western Islands who have entered the Mercy Sisters convent on Guam. During the 1990s five other Chuukese girls have joined the Sisters of Maria Auxiliatrice on Pohnpei. Chuukese boys, too, had been generously entering the seminary for years–at first in the Philippines and then after 1968 in Guam–although all the earlier seminarians left in time. The vocations continue, but most of the young seminarians in recent years seem to be persevering. Today, in addition to the six Chuukese diocesan priests at work in parishes, there are four seminarians doing theological studies abroad. Apparently there is no lack of interest on the part of young Chuukese today in the priesthood and religious life.
A genuinely Chuukese church, the goal of more than 90 years of missionary work, is still in the making. Yet there are unmistakable landmarks as we progress towards this goal. The biggest were the ordination of Fr. Amando Samo as the first Chuukese priest in 1977, followed by those of Fr. Julio Angkel in 1984, and Fr. David Lewis and Fr. Adalbert Umwech in 1990. Four more young men were ordained to the priesthood during the 1990s: Kirino Halley, Florentinus Akkin, Basilio Dilipiy, and Edmond Ludwick. All these ordinations drew enormous gatherings of Chuukese Christians who shared a manifest pride that one of their own people was taking his place in a church office that had once been exclusively held by foreigners. Since their ordination these priests have initiated such programs as Marriage Encounter and the Youth Mobile Team besides carrying on their normal parish work. It is no exaggeration to say that they have become the dominant force shaping the pastoral directions of the church of Chuuk. As they work with Sr. Faustina and others in inter-parish programs, there is every hope that church work in the future will be stamped even more visibly with a Chuukese character.
There have been other landmarks as well in recent years. The formal elevation of the vicariate to the status of a diocese in February 1980 has been celebrated every year since with a large lagoon-wide mwich of the sort that the Spanish priests used to exalt in earlier days. This annual gathering has become the occasion for more than the traditional speech-making and food; it has taken on the spirit of joyful celebration of the Chuukese features of the church and is organized around a liturgy incorporating local ritual, chants and songs. Another landmark was the reopening of the deacon program to a new group of candidates, 18 of whom were ordained in December 1988. The long training program they received will serve as a means of providing pastoral and theological upgrading for the candidates and the communities they serve on nearly every major island. Then, in 1983, a new Chuukese translation of the New Testament was printed, marking a new era of collaboration between Catholics and Protestants in bringing the word of God to all the people of Chuuk. Work on the translation of the Old Testament was completed by Monica Kincho, who served the church for 20 years. The Nepukos studio presents this word on the radio through weekly programs broadcast on the government station. Nestor Oneisom and Senrita Hamelai have assumed the chief responsibility for this ministry.
Perhaps the most striking symbol of the progress in localizing the church, however, was the ordination of the first Micronesian bishop in the Diocese of the Caroline-Marshall Islands. On August 15, 1987, Amando Samo was raised to the episcopacy to serve as auxiliary bishop for the diocese and vicar for Chuuk. A few years later, on June 6, 1995, Bishop Amando succeeded Bishop Neylon as the Ordinary of the Diocese of the Caroline Islands. With this, church leadership in Chuuk and in the diocese has finally passed into the hands of Chuukese clergy. The church of Chuuk has come of age.
Chuuk was the last island group in the diocese to receive the Catholic faith, but the growth of the church there has been steady and promising even in the relatively short time since its implantation. As signs multiply that the missionary goal of a truly local church is within reach, we can look back with gratitude to those, both foreign-born and local, who have planted the seeds from which others reap.
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.