Palapala Ho‘omau Congregational Church, Hana, HI 96713
The Palapala Ho’omau Preservation Society c/o C. Peters Belsom, Esq. 547 Wainee Street Lahaina, Hawaii 96761 firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1786, French Naval officer and explorer Jean-Francois de la Perouse sailed along the southeast coast of Maui, searching for a place to drop anchor. Passing Kipahulu, he wrote:
“We could see waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside and running in streams into the sea, after having watered the habitations of the natives, which are numerous…. The trees crowning the mountains, the verdure of the banana trees around the houses, all this gave rise to a feeling of inexpressible delight. But the sea beat upon the coast with the utmost violence, and kept us… desiring and devouring with our eyes what it was impossible for us to attain.”
In 1864, Christian missionaries from New England did reach Kipahulu, traveling by land from Lahaina. On a point of the shore overlooking the crashing Pacific, they built a church out of limestone coral and lava rock in the simple, elegant style of the country churches and meeting houses they knew at home: thick, white walls, peaked roof, and a bell tower. Named Palapala Ho’omau Church, meaning roughly “Church of Enduring Scriptures,” the little church became Kipahulu’s place of worship and community gatherings. Its graveyard became the resting place for generations of local Hawaiian families and Chinese workers from the nearby sugar plantation.
Over the next 100 years as residents moved to Hana, Lahaina, and beyond to work in the growing sugar and tourism industries of Hawaii, Kipahulu transformed from a center of activity to the tranquil district of pastures, forests, and scattered homes it is today. Palapala Ho’omau was abandoned. Gradually tropical rain and wind wore down the structure, insects and plants moved in, and the church became a ruin.
In 1964, Sam Pryor, a winter resident from Connecticut, took a walk a mile or so down the road from his second home in Kipahulu. Looking for a path to a view over the ocean, he found the church in the jungle, exposed to the weather and the encroaching roots of a large banyan. An energetic man who loved a good project, Sam set about restoring the church and graveyard beside it, removing trees and vines and setting headstones upright again. As the Kipahulu community learned that Palapala Ho’omau was being restored, the original pews and organ were returned from the local homes that had kept them safe for decades. In Connecticut, from where the original candle-lit chandeliers and brass church bell had come, Sam found replicas and brought them to Maui. He added a stained glass window depicting a Polynesian Christ draped in the red-and-yellow feather capes reserved for Hawaii’s highest chiefs. On Thanksgiving Day 1965, worshippers came to the first service at Palapala Ho’omau since the 1940s.
In 1976, Sam moved with his wife Mary Tay from Connecticut to live year-round in Kipahulu, drawing their many children, grandchildren, and friends to their distant home in paradise. Through their years on Maui, Sam and Mary Tay kept gibbon apes as pets. Sam with a baby ape in diapers on his shoulder became a familiar sight around Hana, from the bar at the Hotel Hana-Maui to the beach chairs at Hamoa. Whenever one of the gibbons passed on, it was buried with a small headstone behind Palapala Ho’omau. Among the Pryors’ friends was aviator and environmentalist Charles Lindbergh. After visiting them in the early 60s, he wrote Sam, “I have never seen a more beautiful place than where you are on Maui. Is there any land around for sale?” Sam arranged for five acres on the corner of his property to be deeded to Lindbergh, where he and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh built a cottage and stayed as often as they could.
Dedicated in his later years to preserving natural spaces, Lindbergh worked with Sam and philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller to protect Ohe'o Gulch, also known as Seven Pools, along with the rich biodiversity of the native Hawaiian rainforest of upper Kipahulu Valley. Through their efforts, the area became the Kipahulu District of the Haleakala National Park in 1969. Not long after settling in Kipahulu, Lindbergh asked Sam where he planned to be buried. Sam took him to Palapala Ho’omau. They agreed that the Pryors and the Lindberghs would share this site for their final resting place, along with the local families of the community.
In the summer of 1974, Lindbergh fell ill at his home in Connecticut. Knowing that his time was short, he requested that he be flown to Maui. Although his doctors warned him that the strain of the long flight might speed his death, he said, “I would rather spend one day on Maui than 30 days in the hospital.” Lindbergh arrived on Maui and, after planning the details of his funeral service, died eight days later, and was buried at Palapala Ho’omau. Mary Tay Pryor passed on Maui in 1978, and was buried there under a Plumeria tree, and in 1985, Sam was put to rest beside her. For many years, a small endowment set up by the Lindbergh and Pryor families and administered by the Hawai’i Conference Foundation, the property management arm of the Congregational Church in Hawaii, provided funds for upkeep of the property. In 2012, the Palapala Ho’omau Preservation Society was created to care for the church and represent the Pryor and Lindbergh families as well as Kipahulu residents in guiding the life of the church in the community.
In 2015, the Society launched a construction project to put a new roof and new floor in the church among other necessary restorations. Donations to continue restoration work and maintenance are gratefully accepted. The church can also be rented for weddings and other sacred events, with all fees going to repair of the church and maintenance of the structure and grounds.
Along with caring for the church and grounds, the Preservation Society seeks to return Palapala Ho’omau to an active role in the life of the community, to invite services, ceremonies, songs and delight to take place within its simple, sturdy walls. Ho’olaule’a. Come, celebrate.