The Catholic church has been a part of life in South Kona since 1842. The first church was located on the shore of Honaunau near the City of Refuge and was known as St. Francis Regis chapel. By the mid 1880's most of the folks had moved away from the beach to the cooler climate and more fertile soil to be found a bit higher on the slopes of Mauna Loa. Father John Berchmans Velghe, A Sacred Hearts father from Belgium, arrived in 1899 and decided to follow the local residents up the mountain slope. The folks dismantled the church and with the help of mules, moved it to its present location.
With repairs and additions the church looked like new. In August 1902 Bishop Ropert from Honolulu visited the relocated church, consecrated it, and named it in honor of St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism. St. Benedict wrote the rule that is still followed today in most communities of monks.
Father Velghe, a self-taught artist, painted the interior walls of the church. His three dimensional interior painting was inspired by the gothic cathedral of Burgos in Spain. His painting of scenes from the bible and the lives of the saints were very important teaching tools in a time when many people couldn't read and write. Throughout church history cathedrals and churches have been adorned with paintings, stained glass windows and statuary that told stories from the old and new testaments and about the lives of heroes from both Hebrew and Christian tradition.
St. Benedict's Church, with its unique art work, is listed in the Hawaii State Register of Historic places and the National Register of Historic Places.
Fr. Velghe's health deteriorated and he had to return to Belgium in 1904, he was never able to finish the church. You can note the unadorned panels, still uncompleted.
In December of 1983 restoration work began on the deteriorating church, in collaboration with the Bishop museum in Honolulu. In February of 1985 the restoration was complete and the parish celebrated. On the hundredth anniversary of the dedication of the church in its present location, in 2002, more renovation was completed. A large plywood altar had been constructed after the changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's, this enabled the priest to celebrate mass facing the congregation. This was replaced by a koa wood altar crafted by a parishioner, that was
smaller and more in proportion to the size of the sanctuary. A matching pulpit was also crafted of this precious Hawaiian wood. The statues were refurbished and the carpet replaced. St. Benedicts sparkled once again.