On December 22, 1841, twenty-one years after the first American Protestant missionaries, Messrs. Samuel Whitney and Samuel Ruggles, had arrived at Waimea, Kauai, Irish-born Fr. Robert Arsenius Walsh (1804-1869) stepped ashore at Koloa Landing to become the first Roman Catholic missionary on Kaua‘i.
When Hawaiians learned of Walsh’s arrival, they took him to the home of Jakopo Pehu near the beach at Poipu, where Walsh quickly established a school with Pehu in charge and celebrated the first Catholic Mass on Christmas Day, 1841.
Yet Walsh was coldly received by Governess Amelia Kekauonohi, for the governess, like practically all of the Hawaiian monarchy, was a staunch Protestant adamantly set against the establishment of a competing religion.
In January, when Fr. Barnabe Castan arrived, Walsh assigned him to Moloa‘a. There, Laupela, the konohiki, welcomed him, but the kahu kula (school agent) punished parents who sent their children to the school Castan started by forbidding them to fish in the ocean, cut wood in the mountains and harvest taro. When Walsh appraised the governess of this situation, she claimed ignorance.
Castan was once confined to his quarters, and on Ni‘ihau, where Walsh’s missionary work eventually failed after initial success, chapels were torn down or vandalized. Elsewhere in Hawai‘i, Catholic converts were sentenced to hard labor, fined or jailed, and children were removed from Catholic schools and forced to attend Protestant schools.
Nevertheless, during 1842, Walsh built a small stone chapel at Koloa and he and Castan baptized at least 196 souls.
In 1854, St. Raphael’s Church was built by Walsh, carpenter John Neal and several Hawaiian converts with timber and with coral cut from the reef at Koloa on land deeded by Kamehameha III.
Fr. Walsh continued missionary work on Kaua‘i until 1859. He died in Honolulu.