How to start a new year? Just drop in on friends in exotic locations. So I decided to follow up on invitations from both Mark Stephens and Matt Ginella to come to Oahu’s North Shore for New Year.
Mark and Matt and their families are the kinds of friends who drive you to the emergency rooms on short notice, or should you have a flat tire on the road at 1 pm, they will find you on Highway 24. Both their families are deeply rooted here.
Fireworks, sparklers, and booming cannons shook the ground to welcome 2015, the Year of Lord, in the historic town of Haleiwa, located near the Dole Plantation sugar cane fields.
I had the good fortune of a comfortable room, the so-called “the Bishop’s Room,” at Saint Michael’s Church (Waialua). On the second floor of the Pastoral Center, the vacant room waited for its bishop, but there was no sign of Larry Silva, the bishop of the Honolulu. Thankfully he slept somewhere else that night, while I used his quarters.
“When was the last time the bishop slept here,” I asked Father Chris. The pastor replied, “I cannot recall that he ever used this suite.” Plenty of rectory rooms stand ready for bishops who never arrive. I was glad to be there. Chris looked relieved, and a bit apprehensive since he was about to begin retirement on the first day of the New Year. He was going to be a chaplain to a group of nuns in Honolulu.
His replacement, Father Lusius, had been assigned to Saint Michael’s, as well as the smaller church of Saint Peter & Paul’s, the so-called “surfers church,” overlooking Waimea Bay. The church’s coveted parking lot houses cars and trucks when the great surfing competitions are underway on the pipeline below. If Pope Francis were a surfer, this would be his Hawaiian Vatican since this church commands the best ocean vista of the most amazing high surf anywhere in Hawaii.
Each year Moraga parishioners of mine, Kim and Mark Stephens and their sons – Tommy, Brett, and Jack travel to Haleiwa, where Kim’s mother Catherine had grown up. She joined them on this trip, and from the lanai of this Hawaiian bungalow and looking out at the reef — she relived her past with stories of what Hawaii was like before the war. At this formal dance, she and her husband had met, and about that day when the Japanese fighter planes flew over the Waialua mountain range, heading to Pearl Harbor, and dropping those fated bombs on a Sunday morning in December of 1941.
Together we celebrated the coming of a New Year in a more peaceful setting – trying to solve an overlarge and impossible Christmas puzzle, playing an electronic version of Trivial Pursuits, Scramble, and of course, all within eyesight of the San Jose Sharks on TV. As it does in this moist climate, it was raining; but I enjoyed these young men, former altar servers whose home was around the corner from my Moraga rectory. For almost a decade, one of the Stephens boys would be our “go-to altar boys,” always on call for someone missing at the 7:30 am Mass. Tommy was the oldest and a recent graduate of Williams, and now working at a research hospital in Boston.Brett, my godson at Confirmation, plays in the outfield for the UCLA baseball team. And just coming off a state championship, Jack was the quarterback for the Campolindo High School football team. Most likely, he’s headed to Washington University in Saint Louis.
All three Stephens’ played the same position of quarterback at the Moraga high school. I asked Mark whether all three would be inducted into the “Campo High Sports Hall of Fame.” Mark said, “No, all four will take the honor,” he insisted Kim, whose volunteer efforts at Campo on behalf of high school sports are a record unto itself. So Kim should take the prize. Come to think of it, it was Kim who got them up – so early in the morning to serve at Mass; and provided the transportation to and from football practice in the afternoons.
From Haleiwa, I drove the Kam Highway along the famed surfing beaches, to meet up with Matt Ginella, a former student of mine from Saint Mary’s College. I discovered Matt over the counter at Carl’s Gourmet Deli, where he made sandwiches for the crowd of his fellow college students. Now he lives in Orlando and works in sports television.
So we met for lunch at Lei Lei’s restaurant and the bar of the Turtle Bay Golf course. After shooting practice, Mark, Tommy, and Brett joined us – for a conversation. To gauge their level of sports talk, it would be on the level of Einstein to talk about nuclear physics. Matt filled them in on our relationship at Saint Mary’s and how he got his start at Sports Illustrated and his latest job – as an on-air anchor and commentator for Golf Channel, where he appears most mornings.
Matt comes to Turtle Bay to stay with his brother Sean, Missy, and their children. Nestled on a cove that looks out at the breakers, the Ginella compound has the resemblance of the movie set for either “Swiss Family Robinson” or “Hawaii Five-O.” Their son Noah is a top surfer and rookie filmmaker of surfing films; he has plenty of sights from the back yard. Sean took us to Marconi Station, a piece of land next door to the golf course, and the place where Guglielmo Marconi installed the very first wireless and joined Hawaii to the rest of the world via the “invisible kingdom of radio.” Sean has sold everything on and in Hawaii — from land to water, and this afternoon he was showing a land parcel to prospective buyers from Brooklyn, NY.
I returned to Haleiwa Joe’s for New Year’s Eve dinner with the Stephens, so let the fireworks begin.
The next morning, just before departing for the Honolulu airport, I had coffee with Father Lusius and his new parishioners in the backroom of the rectory. I wanted to thank them for their hospitality. I found them all so polite and interested to know more about me and my pilgrimage to Rome.
I paid a last visit to a church itself — so unadorned not especially fussed over by an impression seeking, over the zealous pastor. Instead, the building reflected the honest, lived-in look of an unpolished people, the very authentic version of a parish church. Saint Michael’s itself welcomed me into a new year.
Saint Michael’s Church, Waialui, Hawaii