Maui pioneers

By: J. Stapley - August 30, 2007

In 1852, years before the handcart pioneers walked west and just one year after the first baptism in Hawaii, the Saints erected their first chapel. It still stands. PulehuGeorge Q. Cannon remains somewhat legendary on the islands, but there are other great missionaries that followed. Frank Hammond, Joseph F. Smith, my father.

For the first time in my life last week, I walked with my father where fifty years ago he served as a missionary. He learned Hawaiian and was adopted by a family who had been in the church for generations. There were still people who called him by his Hawaiian name, Kamaka. The experience was a gift and while snorkeling and beaches were thrilling, it is the Church sites and conversations that persist (however, reaching for wild strawberry guavas on the road to Hana was also not too shabby).

Like the Gadfield Elm Chapel, the Pulehu Chapel (image above) is the heart of Mormonism. It is a monument to the Pioneers we don’t frequently celebrate. Thousands of Hawaiians joined the Church, participated in communal experiments, and endured to the end, but we rarely see their images or sing their songs.

The Chapel is a one room building. By the entrance lies a panel, which upon opening allows access to a rope to ring the tower bell. Vintage sacrament vessels are on display. The grounds are immaculate and next door is a small cottage for the local proselyting missionaries to stay in (I stayed in some pretty sweet apartments in France, but nothing like this! Bananas growing on your back patio?).

As a bonus, a picture of the Chapel in Hana. I can’t express how grateful I am that they didn’t sink a standard building here:


  1. This is beautiful. Do they still hold services there?

    Comment by Matt W. — 8/30/2007 @ 3:56 pm

  2. Do they still hold services there?

    Nope, but they do in Hana.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 8/30/2007 @ 4:06 pm

  3. Sounds like a great trip, J. I understand that David O. McKay offered a prayer under a tree there. Is that right?

    Comment by Justin — 8/30/2007 @ 4:48 pm

  4. Beautiful. I’ve been to Maui twice and went to church at Lahaina, but didn’t know about this chapel. Where is it? Near Hana? We did visit the church where Lindbergh is buried. Anywhere near that? It ought to be on a list of church historical sites, but maybe that would ruin it!

    Comment by John — 8/30/2007 @ 5:12 pm

  5. Justin, he could have. I did a brief search to see if there was anything written on the chapel, and there was no low hanging fruit.

    John, the church is on the southwest side of Haleakala, near Pulehu.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 8/30/2007 @ 5:34 pm

  6. Ardis emailed me the following excerpt and said I could post it (thanks!). It is from a travel diary kept by an associate and incorporated in to David O. McKay’s diary:

    February 9, 10, 11, 1955

    Hawaiian Mission

    That afternoon early we flew back to Maui, and we all journeyed by the Green Buick to the little village of Pulehu. Here was the monument dedicated by President George Albert Smith designating the place where the first baptisms in the Hawaiian Mission were performed. President McKay and Hugh J. Cannon visited this spot some thirty-four years ago. Here is the story as President McKay dictated, word for word:

    “Brother Hugh J. Cannon had heard his father, President George Q. Cannon, tell about his experiences in Maui, one of which is printed so I may not tell that just as it should be, but you can find it recorded and get it right. As I remember it, it was like this: Brother George Q. Cannon landed at Lahaina, that is across the West Maui mountains, and he walked up through Iao Valley and came to Wailuku. He was dressed in a white suit and was alone, his companion having gone back to Salt Lake City. He was asked to return but felt impressed to remain and complete his mission. He was entering Wailuku for the first time. He knew nobody there, and as he approached the town and started across a stream he slipped and got his feet wet and splashed water on his white suit. He decided to go right through town and get his stockings dry as well as his suit, but he saw a woman coming toward him on the sidewalk who, instead of continuing on toward him, suddenly stopped, turned around and hurried back, the distance I do not know. She entered a nearby house and when George Q. Cannon reached that house a man came out and greeted him. He extended his hand and said, ‘I have been expecting you.’ And when George Q. Cannon asked him who he was, he said, ‘I am Chief Napela,’ and said the chief, ‘Last night I dreamed I saw you and I told my wife when I woke up that we would have a visitor here today, so that when she saw you coming she remembered at once what I had told her and hurried back and told me that here is the man you saw in your vision.’ There is a genuine case of pre-vision.

    “Chief Napela entertained George Q. Cannon as his guest and became a staunch supporter. The opposition of the missionaries was very severe at first, but the chief stood up and defended them all the time, and at one time they came up here and held a meeting which might have been outside but there might have been a meeting house. I am not clear on that. There were about 100 people present, 90 of whom joined the Church after that meeting. George Q. Cannon had told Hugh J. Cannon about that, and Hugh J. Cannon said, ‘I would like to go up there to Pulehu.’ I said, ‘So would I.’ That was exactly thirty-four years and two days ago. So we came up here and this is where it was (pointing to a spot where the pepper tree had been), and as we looked at an old frame house that stood here then, he said, ‘That is probably the old chapel.’ It seemed to me it was over in the distance. Nothing else was here. We said, ‘Well probably that is the place. We are probably standing on the spot upon which your father, George Q. Cannon, and Chief Napela addressed those people.’ And we became very much impressed with the surroundings and association and spiritual significance of everything, and also with the manifestations that we had had on our trip to the Orient and thus far in Hawaii, so I said, ‘I think we should have a word of prayer.’ It was a hot day and the sun shining and we retired to the shade of a pepper tree that stood right on this spot. I would like to show you just how we stood. (President McKay had lined up some of the brethren present as follows, reading from left to right: President Franklin J. Murdock representing David Keola Kailimai, Elder Clifford E. Young as E. Wesley Smith, President McKay as himself, J. Pia Cockett as Hugh J,. Cannon, and Dr. Reuben D. Law as Samuel Hurst.)

    “I offered the prayer. We all had our eyes closed and it was a very inspirational gathering. At the conclusion of the prayer and as we started to walk away, Brother Keola Kailimai took Brother E. Wesley Smith to the side and began talking in Hawaiian to him very earnestly. As we walked along the rest of us dropped back. They continued walking and very earnestly Brother Keola told in Hawaiian what he had seen during that prayer. They stopped right over there (pointing a short distance away) and Brother E. Wesley Smith said, ‘Brother McKay, do you know what Brother Kailimai has told me?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said that while I was praying and we all had our eyes closed, he saw two men whom he thought were Hugh J. Cannon and E. Wesley Smith step out of line in front of us and shake hands and he wondered why Brother Cannon and Brother Smith were shaking hands while we were praying. He opened his eyes and there stood those two men still in line and with their eyes closed just as they had been. He quickly closed his eyes because he knew he had seen a vision.

    ‘Now Brother Hugh J. Cannon greatly resembled Brother George Q. Cannon, his father. I spoke during our trip on the resemblance he had with his father, Brother George Q. Cannon, and, of course, E. Wesley Smith had the Smith attribute just as President Joseph Fielding Smith has it. Naturally, Brother Keola Kailimai would think that these two men were there.” President McKay said, “I think it was George Q. Cannon and Joseph Fielding Smith, two former missionaries to Hawaii, whom that spiritual minded man saw.

    “We walked a few steps farther and I said, ‘Brother Kailimai, I do not understand the significance of your vision, but I do know that te veil between us and those former missionaries was very thin.’ Brother Hugh J. Cannon by my side, with tears rolling down his cheeks, said, ‘Brother McKay, there was no veil.’

    “There you have it. I am happy to be on this spot again.

    “The Lord is pleased with what the missionaries have done and I am grateful for the response of the Hawaiian people and others of these lovely islands. I am glad to see this lovely group of Elders and members here assembled for this truly is a sacred spot. May we who will now have increased responsibility from this moment on be true to the trust that the Lord has in us!”

    Comment by J. Stapley — 8/30/2007 @ 11:27 pm

  7. Thanks, J., for posting that account. Is the chapel used for any purpose these days?

    Comment by Justin — 8/31/2007 @ 11:50 am

  8. The thanks goes to Ardis. I know it is used for weddings on occasion. The old stake president held a pageant there. I know that they bring youth up for devotionals as well.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 8/31/2007 @ 12:37 pm

  9. J,

    I am thrilled you got the chance to have that experience. Like you, I would enjoy the snorkeling and such, but it would be the chance to walk with my father down those old roads that would make me giddy. Did you get any good ghost stories out of him?

    Comment by Chris S — 8/31/2007 @ 2:44 pm

  10. Ah, most of the good stories came out during the after-party in Denver!

    Comment by J. Stapley — 8/31/2007 @ 3:57 pm

  11. When I was young, it was a common practice at the end of a Primary or Sunday school lesson for the teacher to ask if anyone would like to share a “faith promoting experience”. You would also hear these experiences in Testimony meeting. I heard stories of healings, lives being saved and even visitations. No one does that much anymore. It has become uncomfortable. Many of the experiences are tender and probably much too sacred or personal to share. Also some of the stories have become a bit fantastic as the tellers tried too hard and the “Mormon Legend” has come into being. However, as we visited Hawaii I was an audience to some stories and experiences similar to those that I had heard and shared as a child. I listened as my Hawaiian friend/sister told of the miracle of George Q. Cannon’s solo journey through the Iao valley and the love of the Saints for those early pioneer missionaries. As we travelled together, she talked of her life experiences and of simple prayers, for needed food, that were granted almost immediately. One experience involved the rain being held back in the rescue of some farm animals. Her words were full of simplicity of faith that resonated with my spirit and told me of their truthfulness. I loved those hours at her feet. Miracles still happen in the Islands. It’s as if they are expected. My friend has not become jaded to those expectations nor embarrassed that their occurrence. Should we resurrect “Faith Promoting experiences” in our meetings and classes? Probably not. We have become cynical and not able to have those qualities of innocence and faith that can accept the miraculous and there are also too many of us/those who haven’t the judgment to know what is genuine and truly of the spirit.

    Comment by JNS — 9/2/2007 @ 5:59 pm

  12. Today’s Hawaiians are the same overly generous and loving people as they were in the days of the first missionaries. They easily recognize the presence of the spirit and those who teach with or without it. It was thus so when George Q. Cannon first arrived in this island paradise and stood on and relatively small piece of land on the side of Haleakala. On a day as only Hawaii can bring, this small piece of land was pronounced as “Sacred”, was dedicated to the Lord, and designated the place where a chapel would be built for the families from across the islands to come to worship, pray and play.
    Today, this sacred place still stands, with the simple white chapel aside a broad, age old tree. This was the centerpiece for the Spirit that I felt immediately upon entry both 50 years ago as a missionary, and on this day, as one seeking the peace and comfort that day two weeks ago. It stands as the sentinel that looks across the island to proclaim the truth of the words spoken by a prophet so long ago on this very spot. The closeness of the Spirit has always been a blessing to these people. They literally walked and talked with the Father. Their faith and love generated love and caring in others beyond anything that I had previously experienced. From them my spirit was blessed and I was filled.
    As my love for them grew, I began to recognize the change their culture was making on me. I found it easier to commune with my Father in Heaven without extra preparation. Ultimately I was adopted by an elderly sister of the Wailuku Branch. Even until this day, as I view the Hawaiian Quilts and Feather Lei Hatband she gave me, I remember those days of the spirit.
    Imagine what President Cannon felt!

    Comment by RBS — 9/2/2007 @ 8:28 pm

  13. J-

    I am jealous…and gratified you were able to experience what seems to be a true sharing of the spirit.

    I also have noted the faith of some peoples make it easier? for them to experience things that my cynical life has made all but impossible. I yearn for that simple faith that allows for miraculous experience. But it seems that what you had the opportunity to do last week might have been a small window into that very state.

    Comment by Craig S — 9/3/2007 @ 8:11 pm

  14. The missionary pad right next to the chapel is pretty sweet. In the entrance (at least in the mid 90’s) there were generations of missionary ties hung up in a row. We actually had quite a few zone/district conferences at the Pulehu chapel. We also had a mission tour with Elder Loren C Dunn there. If I remember correctly, there is a nice large stone monument on the site. Also, there is an enormous, beautiful old tree in front. I have quite a few pictures of us in front of that tree.

    In fact, you should check out the following article in BYU Studies (Vol 33, No 1, 1993) entitled “Prayer under a Pepper Tree: Sixteen Accounts of a Spiritual Manifestation” that relates of the vision that David O’Mckay had while at Pulehu from the perspective of 5 different men who were there. Great article. The site is probably the most sacred of any on Maui. The article, at the end, even suggests that when there is a Temple on Maui, that it will be at Pulehu.

    Comment by Jonathan K — 11/22/2007 @ 2:59 am

  15. I actually had a faith-promoting experience last year that helped me find the chapel. It’s told down in watered down form here:

    Before I went I could find hardly anything about it on the Internet but just today I found several new reports on it including yours. I’ll probably add your link to my page soon. They should do an article about this in The Ensign.

    Comment by Christian — 10/29/2008 @ 2:18 am

  16. #14 – Don’t worry, those ties are gone!! When sisters got to that area, we made sure to get rid of those. Thank you for this post, J. Stapley. I lived in that building next to the chapel when I served in that area in 2004. What a special and sacred site that area is….

    Comment by Amanda — 2/21/2010 @ 10:59 am

  17. A few years ago when our family vacationed on Maui, we attended church two weeks in Makawao. One Sunday after church, we drove to the Pulehu Chapel and went inside. The acoustics were really neat, as we all sang “The Spirit of God.” The spirit was strong as we felt the aloha of the early pioneers from Hawaii.

    Comment by Greg — 4/2/2010 @ 2:25 pm

  18. #14
    I remember those ties. I have pictures of you under that tree! Ha! Good to see you my old friend! What great times!

    Comment by Hemi — 6/29/2010 @ 9:19 pm

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