Today is one of those dates that holds for many people the memory of both horror and bravery, especially as experienced by those in the United States of America who personally suffered the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. There are two reasons why I am more aware than usual of this event this year. This is the 75th “anniversary” (not to say celebration) of the bombing and has already been in the news with a story of one of the oldest survivors who arrived in Hawaii on Monday to great fanfare. Today will be, I presume, more somber but also filled with gratitude for the lives of those who served our country on that day as well as before and after December 7, 1941.
I just finished on Sunday reading a book entitled Aloha Ke Akua (The Love of God) which is the story of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Hawaii. As we look seriously at our future I decided it was time to renew and/or deepen my familiarity with history of my religious Congregation in the United States. Since the book appeared while I was going through a storage box, I decided Hawaii was a good place to start. The timing was perfect and the book very engaging. The Sisters were called to Hawaii in 1938 by a bishop who was desperately in need of teachers in his Catholic schools where populations were growing exponentially. In 1938 travel to Hawaii did not mean jumping on a plane and arriving later that day or early the next, depending on the point of departure. It took six days to travel by ship from Los Angeles, the closest of our four provinces to the Hawaiian Islands. This mission also meant little correspondence with “home” and no expectation of visiting for the duration of their stint in the Islands. I began immediately to feel pride and admiration for these courageous and generous women who responded to this new and very different call to ministry that took them eventually to several islands in the Pacific, some of which had never been heard of before by most North Americans.
The most revelatory chapter in this engaging book was, for me, the account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, written by one of the Sisters who experienced it first-hand. The Sisters had been there for three years and by then the weekend “job” of three of them was to teach religion classes to the children of the soldiers living on the army base at the Schofield Barracks. After reading the account of that day and the effects in the months and years that followed, I had a new and deeper appreciation of both our Sisters and all of the people in Hawaii who had lived through that time. Sister Kathleen Marie Shields recounted the horror and resultant sorrows experienced as well as gratitude for the strength and fortitude of the people in a way that reflected a line from today’s Psalm: For as the heavens reach infinitely beyond all space and time, we swim in mercy as in an endless sea. (Ps 103:10)
Today then, as we remember all those who lived through this and other events during World War II, let us give thanks for those people who show us the way through danger and disaster and pray for the end to all war. Let there be peace on earth!