During the 1880’s hundreds of laborers from Portugal, Spain, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands were brought to West Kauai to work in the cane fields. Catholic missionary work thrived and solid frame buildings were needed in place of Hawaiian-style chapels.
Father Libert Boeynaems presented a request for land to Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. She granted him two acres of crown land in Waimea. Father Maximin Alff erected a rectory, which was used as a church. The first permanent church in Waimea was built by Father Emmeran Schulte, who dedicated it to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on April 29, 1899. This church was replaced with a larger church in 1937.
His successor, Father Herman Schrad found many Catholics working in the fields of Olokele Planatation. A plea to the plantation manager caused the erection of St. Joseph’s Church at Makaweli, blessed on January 1, 1913.
Time had come for a church at Kekaha where Catholic services were being held on Saturdays in the community hall. Father Raphael Smulders negotiated an exchange with Kekaha Plantation for a parcel of land owned by the church for one centrally located in Kekaha houselots, across from the ocean.
When the church was built, the Very Reverend Victorinus Classen performed the blessing, dedicating the new church to St. Theresa, the Little Flower, on January 1, 1941. (The extremities of the parish are Mana and Makaweli (Kaumakani), each of which is about an eight mile distance from Kekaha, the parish seat. The other mission is Waimea, about two miles from Kekaha toward Makaweli. Waimea had a church, whereas Kekaha, the parish center, had no church until 1941. Kekaha was canonically established as the parish on March 1, 1945. There is some discrepancy regarding this date, as another document states: The original St. Theresa Church was built in 1940 and dedicated/blessed by Fr. Victorinus Classen, pro-vicar of the diocese on either January 1 or January 19, 1941 (conflicting dates found in printed documents) as ‘St. Theresa, the Little Flower.’)
Makaweli (or Kaumakani), the site of the first parish on the west side of the island, became a mission church (St. Joseph’s Church) of St. Theresa Parish. The old sugar company moved and Olokele Sugar Company moved in. The church burned and the owners of the land refused to sell or lease the land to the Catholic Church, hence a church could not be built there. For many years, Mass was held in a small community center adjacent to the current Kaumakani Post Office until St. Joseph Church was closed by the Diocese of Honolulu in 2009.
One of the two Hawaiian missions accepted by the Washington Province of the Society of Mary in 1944 was the parish of St. Theresa. Upon arrival in Kekaha, Fathers Joseph J. Robeck and James F. Gilbride found an attractive, small church surrounded by a carefully maintained acre of lawn and flowers, but no rectory. A large sacristy served as a kitchen, dining room and office for both priests and as sleeping quarters for one, while an improved room in the belfry was the bedroom of the other Father.
The priests soon made plans to build a rectory. Due to war time regulations, the rectory plan and building materials were regulated. They could only build a wooden framed house consisting of an office, living room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bath. The overall floor plan could not exceed 40 feet by 30 feet and it could not be more than one story.
On December 28, 1944, the Fathers moved from the church to the new rectory. On January 7, 1945, Father Roebeck, the pastor, blessed the new building and the parishioners furnished it with all the necessities of a home.
In the course of the parish work, the Fathers became convinced that the great need of the parish was a Catholic School. All construction for the school was completed on August 25, 1946, and four Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, were assigned to St. Theresa’s. They arrived on August 15, 1946, where the parishioners greeted them with leis, Hawaiian songs and dances with lots of good food. School opened on September 3, 1946 – the first Catholic school on the island of Kauai with 135 children attending the first four grades. A grade was added each year until the full elementary school was completed.
Marist Fathers served at St. Theresa Parish from 1944 until 1984 when the Missionaries from Our Lady of La Salette, Fathers Jose R. Nacu and Conrad H. Blanchet, accepted an offer from Bishop Joseph A. Ferrario to work in the parish of St. Theresa. The La Salette Missionaries served at St. Theresa Parish for 30 years, until Fr. Emerson ‘Fr. Boyet’ Delos Reyes, on loan from the Diocese of Tagum in the Philippines, became the new parish administrator on July 1, 2015. The La Salettes returned with Fr. Edwin D. Conselva, M.S. as Pastor on July 1, 2019 when Fr. Boyet returned to his home parish in the Philippines.