‘We Will Not Abandon Them’

Posted on September 14, 2023 in: General News

‘We Will Not Abandon Them’

Order raises more than $1 million in relief for Maui community devastated by fire

By Cecilia Hadley



Principal Tonato Lolesio walked slowly around the remains of Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Sept. 1, her first time back since Aug. 8, when the town was razed by a wildfire that killed more than 100 people and destroyed more than 2,000 structures. Twisted corrugated metal, gray with ash, covered what was once the preschool playground; her office was a cinder block shell, its paint blistered by heat.

“Oh, my beautiful little school,” she said sadly as she viewed the destruction.

But Lolesio also saw signs of hope amid the rubble. The school’s statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus still stood in its courtyard — and historic Maria Lanakila (Our Lady of Victory) Catholic Church still stood next door, virtually untouched by the fire.

Another reason for her hope: the support of the Knights of Columbus, who have helped Sacred Hearts reopen a “pop-up” school in Kapalua, about 10 miles north of Lahaina. With financial support from the Order and hands-on support from local Knights, the school welcomed 200 students to temporary classrooms outside Sacred Hearts Mission Church on Aug. 28.

“The Knights have really helped us carry this very, very heavy cross,” Lolesio said. “I just thank God for their presence. I thank God for their generosity. Their response to our needs was immediate. They showed up, and they brought the cavalry.”

The Order has now raised over $1.1 million in relief for Maui, on top of a donation of $200,000 to the Archdiocese of Honolulu from the Supreme Council. Working with the archdiocese and other aid organizations, Knights in Hawaii have used the funds to deliver food, water and other essentials to the island, provide displaced families with shelter and emergency gift cards, and help small business owners buy supplies to get back on their feet.

“It is often said that ‘Where there’s a need, there’s a Knight’ — and our Knights in Hawaii are proving it once again,” said Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly. “Though the rebuilding efforts in Maui could take years, our Knights on the ground will serve for the long haul. United in faith and charity, we’ll continue to deliver on the mission set by our founder, Blessed Michael McGivney. We’re grateful to our generous donors, and ask everyone to keep the men, women and children of Maui in their prayers.”

John Fielding, a member of Our Lady of Peace Council 5000 in Honolulu, and Grand Knight Joshua Kapika and Dallas Carter of St. Michael the Archangel Council 16741 in Waialua, have taken lead roles in the K of C response. Within 48 hours of the fire, they were bringing supplies by boat from Oahu to Maui, with assistance from EPIC Ministry, a lay organization of young adults led by Carter. That effort goes on, with more than 60,000 pounds of supplies for victims delivered by land, sea and air so far.

Knights also quickly set about tracking down parishioners of Maria Lanakila, teachers at Sacred Hearts School and other families in need to deliver gift cards. Carter recalls that they met at least seven families who had not yet received any other aid. But the gift cards, while welcome, were not the most important thing the Knights brought.

“They were grateful for the money, but it was the prayer, it was the hug, it was the knowledge that they wouldn’t be alone and that we would be there,” Carter said. “That was what meant the most to me, to be able to give them the assurance that we will not abandon them.”

The Knights continue to coordinate volunteers in Hawaii, with four teams rotating in shifts. They are building temporary housing for displaced Lahaina residents; delivering supplies, which families can request through a web portal developed by EPIC with K of C support; and assisting wherever else they are needed.

Kapika stressed that this need will continue for a long time: “It is not something that’s going to be fixed in a day. It will take years to rebuild. And the more support that we get from our brothers, the more that we here in Hawaii can continue to do for the people of Maui,” he said.

Joseph Esser, a member of Maria Lanakila Council 15774 in Lahaina, became emotional as he recalled his first sight of the fire’s destruction. “Driving down Route 30 and seeing some of the devastation, I had to hold back the tears,” he said.

As president of the pastoral council at Maria Lanakila, Esser has been involved in the effort to reopen Sacred Hearts School as soon as possible, and he expressed enormous gratitude for the Order’s help.

“I just can’t imagine how we could have done what we’ve done without the support from all of our ohana,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for family. “It’s just immense. We couldn’t do this on our own. … Now we rebuild. Now we turn ourselves over to Jesus. Through Jesus, all things are possible.”


Support these and other relief efforts by donating to the Knights of Columbus Charities Disaster Relief Fund. As always, 100% of your donation goes to support those we serve.


CECILIA HADLEY is senior editor of Columbia.