14,000+ chapel services

Over 14,000 chapel services, plus weddings, funerals and other services—that’s the estimate of the number of events which have taken place at the Robert Shipman Thurston Memorial Chapel on the Punahou School campus since it was built fifty years ago. Before that time, services were held at McNeil Hall, Dillingham Auditorium, or even outdoors. With 8 regular chapel services per week, it’s a busy place.

The Punahou lily pond.

The Punahou lily pond.

Robert Shipman Thurston was a graduate of the Punahou Class of 1941 whose plane was lost during World War II. His parents gave $25,000 to build the chapel in his memory, a building designed by the renowned architect, Vladimir Ossipoff (who coincidentally also designed the Lutheran Church of Honolulu across the street). Thurston Memorial Chapel architecturally is reminiscent of a mother hen, guarding her chicks.

From its website you’ll read that the school was built on the lands of Ka Punahou, named for the fabled natural spring discovered centuries ago under a hala tree. The spring still flows today, at the heart of Punahou’s campus under the Thurston Memorial Chapel, and its waters not only form the iconic Lily Pond, but also are used to irrigate portions of the campus.

Beebe Freitas

Beebe Freitas

This weekend, the school will celebrate the chapel’s 50th anniversary with a special service on Sunday afternoon, January 22nd, which I’m playing in the absence of Punahou’s long-time organist, Beebe Freitas, who is recovering from an illness. Beebe has played the organ here for more than 30 years, so it is understandable that it will be a disappointment not to have her at the service. They will just have to settle for me instead!


When I asked what they wanted me to play, Chandra Peters, the chapel coordinator, shared a newspaper clipping with me. It was from 1989, the dedication of the chapel organ by University of Southern California organist, Ladd Thomas. When she showed me the clipping, I said excitedly, “Carl (Crosier) and I were there at that recital!”

Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes

Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes

Ladd Thomas’ program included Bach, Dupré’s Variations sur un Noel, a Walther concerto and a mood piece, Autumnal, by Dorothy James. You may remember that I went to the University of Southern California—unfortunately I did not study with Ladd, but have certainly known him, and his wife, organist Cherry Rhodes, all these many years.

A couple days later, Chandra dug up the chapel dedication program, and I was so surprised to see that Walter Kau (1920-2010) was the organist. For the prelude, he played the “Little” Prelude and Fugue in B-flat from the 8 Little Preludes and Fugues, formerly thought to be by Bach, but now considered a spurious work. For a postlude he played “Magnificat VI” by Marcel Dupré. Walter was the organist at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church for over 50 years before retiring to his home parish, St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, where I was the parish administrator. I remember typing the funeral bulletin!

Interesting that Walter Kau and Ladd Thomas both programmed Bach and Dupré!

Initially, I was also going to play Bach and Dupré (his Cortège et Litanie), but because of time restraints, I’ll be playing the famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Paul Manz’s “God of grace and God of glory.”

I will also be accompanying the Punahou Choir in Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, as was done at the 1967 chapel dedication.

It looks to be another busy weekend, with a birthday party for a former student, organ lessons, rehearsal with the Punahou choir, and the 50th Anniversary service. In addition I’ll be attending Jeremy Wong’s faculty recital in Orvis Auditorium at the University of Hawaii, “Songs of Travel: A Recital of English Song.”

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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