An Idea Is Born
The founding of Damien Memorial School represents a significant milestone in the history of Christian education in the Hawaiian Islands. Looking back at its modest beginning, Damien became a reality through the vision and determination of a handful of men and the cooperation and generosity of many dedicated people committed to Oahu’s youth. Damien is the realization of a dream dating back to World War II when the need became apparent for an additional Catholic secondary school serving Central Oahu and the expanding Leeward and Windward communities. Three years after Statehood when Damien opened its doors in 1962, the school had the distinction of being "the 50th high school in the 50th state" and the tenth Catholic high school in the Islands. Damien’s sponsor is the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a worldwide religious order founded by Brother Edmund Rice.
Damien’s Chosen Name
The name of the new school was conceived in 1946 when the Most Reverend James J. Sweeney, Bishop of Honolulu, attended a celebration honoring Father Damien de Veuster, the revered Apostle of Molokai. Inspired by Father Damien, Bishop Sweeney decided that naming a school in the priest’s memory would be a fitting tribute to this great man and provide a strong Christian role model for boys to emulate. The Kalihi-Palama location was selected for the campus when the Houghtailing family offered a parcel of land to the Diocese of Honolulu at a nominal price. In the mid-1950s, Kalihi residents petitioned the Bishop for the school, promising to help build it. The Most Reverend John J. Scanlan, who was educated by the Christian Brothers, persuaded Bishop Sweeney to ask the Order to come from the West Coast and operate the school. In 1959, the Brothers signed the official agreement with Bishop Sweeney to build and administer the new Catholic educational facility. Construction began in 1962 on uneven, overgrown swampland that included four acres of taro patches. The community pitched in and the campus began taking shape. Much of the backbreaking, physical labor was performed by the Brothers, students and volunteers. A considerable portion of construction expertise, equipment and materials was donated.
The Dream Is Realized
In the spring of 1962, 180 boys – representing a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds – registered to attend Damien at nearby Saint Theresa Catholic School. Tuition that first year was $250. Classes began at Damien in a partially finished building as work continued on the first wing. The Brothers taught full days of classes followed by hours of manual labor with picks and shovels.
Buildings Go Up, Tuition Stays Down
Due recognition must be given to the founding principal, Brother Thomas B. Regan, (1910-1970) the driving force through the first six years of Damien's history. This exceptional man held a clear vision of what the school should be and worked unfailingly towards that end. In 1968, before his reassignment to the Mainland, Brother Regan handed down a legacy with these parting thoughts: “With the hard work of the Brothers and staff, the unmatched spirit of cooperation of the students, and the support and generosity of the finest parents anywhere, there is no way that Damien can be anything but great.” August, 1964 saw completion of the second wing. School enrollment was growing as each year a new class was added. Ten Brothers were assigned to Damien to handle the increasing student body. In 1965, the school with the help of a newly formed parent group, the Kokua Club, organized a carnival to raise funds for the expanding campus. The carnival became an annual event. The following year was a proud time at Damien as the pioneer Class of 1966 graduated. A miracle had been performed by the Brothers and friends of Damien as these first students received their diplomas. Buildings had gone up and tuition had stayed down, as promised.