I met him for the first time this past summer when he appeared on the scene as one of the new guides for Damien Tours. He is tall and burly with bulging biceps like the spinach-fueled Popeye the Sailor Man. As he himself has told me, he has spent time on our island waters and I don’t doubt that on more than one occasion, as he looked out over the southern waters of Molokai, he has called out, “There she blows!” even as the great whales frolic in the channel between Molokai and Maui. Indeed, like some of the seafaring men of the ages, Rick Schonely looks like he is at home with the sea.
Rick, who makes his home in the east end of Molokai, is known for his colorful sports columns in the weekly issues of the Molokai Dispatch. He also features prominently on the Molokai music scene. Skilled with uke and guitar, he possesses a powerful singing voice, thrilling the ladies, naturally, and I would suggest that he is Molokai’s version of the late great Irish balladeer, Liam Clancy. So I was very happy to learn that Rick brings his uke along on the tour so that he can serenade his pilgrims during his presentations.
Kalaupapa now has two tours to accommodate the many pilgrims who journey here from all over the globe. Kekaula Tours unveiled its two white vans in the summer of 2016 and meets the mule train and some of the many hikers who brave the three-mile trail from Topside Molokai. Damien Tours celebrated 50 years of service in May of 2016 and continues to give top class service with tour guides like Rick Schonely.
As of this writing, it has been four years, eight months, and 10 days (but who’s counting?) since I touched down at Kalaupapa’s airport in June of 2012.
During this time I have met people from all over our world, many of whom have yearned for much of their lives to visit this settlement which celebrates two saints. Because of the limitations on visiting this land of SS. Damien and Marianne over the years, many have wondered whether they would ever get the opportunity to visit. So when they do finally arrive here, it is an emotional experience for them.
Like the great whales that visit our waters and our harbor each winter, they have come a long journey and bring with them an excitement that touches those who encounter them here. There she blows!
Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.