East Maui residents remember beloved church destroyed in fire

A fire destroys St. Gabriel Mission Church in Wailua Nui.
Many neighbors are sharing their memories of St. Gabriel's Mission Church in Maui.
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 6:40 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 12, 2022 at 7:01 PM HST
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WAILUA NUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - East Maui residents watched St. Gabriel Mission Church go up in flames just weeks ago.

As of Wednesday, it’s a pile of rubble and ashes.

“Just sad,” said Keanae resident Awapuhi Kaauamo Carmichael. “We were all sad because we had so many memories of the church.”

Awapuhi grew up going to the church in Wailua Nui.

“I was the first baby to be baptized and it was the Easter Sunday of 1937. I was about two months old,” Awapuhi recalled.

Awapuhi said her dad, uncles and great uncles built St. Gabriel Mission Church back in the 1930s because Coral Miracle Church, also known as Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, was getting too small for churchgoers.

“Probably the only church in Hawaii, in the mainland, maybe in the world when we come to church, nobody comes in late,” said Father Gary Colton.

Longtime Maui priest Father Gary said that was because everyone in the small community looked forward to going to church every Sunday.

“Going to church is not just a Sunday obligation, it’s a social time,” he said.

“Each family had a pew,” Awapuhi said. “We were all lined up, my father, mother and children.”

When Father Gary first came to Maui in 1981, his first assignment was St. Gabriel Mission Church off Wailua Road. His first baptism was there and he’s been family ever since.

“This Hawaiian community out here adopted me,” Father Gary said. “When we drove in and all we saw were the ashes and the completely destroyed building, there’s nothing there. It’s down. It was heartbreaking and sad.”

Investigators never figured out what caused the fire.

Even before the fire, the church was in bad shape. So churchgoers had been gathering back at the small Our Lady of Fatima Shrine.

But even there, the roof is leaking, the walls are blistering, and the wood is termite eaten.

Churchgoers say they just want a safe and sturdy place to worship.

St. Gabriel was made a mission of St. Rita Church in Haiku in 1963. If you would like to help, click here.

Checks can also be made payable to: “St. Gabriel’s Repair & Maintenance” and mailed to St. Rita Church at 655 Haiku Rd., Haiku, HI 96708.