Kanani Franco KSK’91 began her official first day as Kahu of Kamehameha Schools Maui on a quiet Sunday, August 6th. No one could predict the destruction and heartache that would occur just two days later. Wind-whipped wildfires destroyed 19 homes upcountry and ravaged historic Lahaina. More than 100 souls perished.
Dozens of KS haumāna, kumu, and extended ʻohana were affected by the fire, and the entire pae ʻāina was plunged into deep mourning and shock. Kahu Franco became a source of comfort and spiritual leadership in the days of uncertainty that followed. But she also had much help and found solace in scripture and the notes she had written the day before her official start date.
“Zechariah 4 tells of the prophet Zerubbabel being given the kuleana by God to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem. Ke Akua tells him in Verse 10, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.’ I wrote in my commentary that it’s only through God’s spirit that anything of lasting value is accomplished. As you live for God, determine not to trust in your own strength or abilities. Instead, depend on God and work in the power of the Spirit.”
The verse and notes brought her courage and reassurance in the following days.
Following the fires, Franco worked tirelessly with campus counselors, behavioral health specialists, and the leadership team. All worked in unison to address immediate needs, as well as look at other ways to provide support and communicate with families whose students had not yet returned. The work helped ensure that KS Maui is a puʻuhonua (place of refuge) that brings peace and tranquility to students and kumu during this time. Franco says she’s now focused on listening and being observant of the needs of its campus haumāna, families, and staff and what they are seeking when it comes to spirituality. She plans to adapt and be mākaukau to provide for the community while raising KS Maui to God’s light.
“We are truly blessed to have Kahu Kanani Franco serve as the Chaplain of our school and KS Maui ‘ohana,” said Dr. Scott Parker, KS Maui poʻo kula. “We all know and love her for her vivacious personality and faithfulness to God, but she continually inspires us with her profound commitment to our keiki, and perpetuation of ʻōlelo Hawai‘i. As a longtime kumu on our campus, we are grateful Kahu Kanani will continue to serve our haumāna and we are excited to see where her new role will lead our school.”
Growing up in Haʻikū, Maui, her grandmother, Rev. Elizabeth Kepani, was a significant influence on her. She grew up in her family church, Ekalesia o Kupaianaha Hoʻomana o Ke Akua Ola. It was grounded in Hawaiian culture with God at the center. “Everything was in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Listening to our ‘ōlelo and my grandmother piqued my interest, and her love for Ke Akua just grew and naturally resided in me,” Franco said.
While her heart was set on being an educator, it wasn’t until she became a Christian education instructor at KS Maui that she realized she wanted to dig deeper into theology and study it. She discovered she loved it. Though her ʻiʻini (desire) for Ke Akua started in her church, she believes God prepared her to pursue her academic study of the word.
Franco began as an ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi kumu at Pūnana Leo O Maui. Her love for teaching expanded as a Community-Based Early Childhood Advocate for The Institute for the Native Pacific Education and Culture (INPEACE) before she became a Christian Education Instructor at KS Maui.
As an alumna, Franco says Kamehameha Schools instilled in her an eagerness to kūlia i ka nuʻu and holomua, to strive and move forward and consistently grow and never stop. She references her learning from the Statement of Appreciation: To strive to meet our responsibilities, to progress to the best of our ability, to carry ourselves with dignity and pride.
Franco received her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Pacific Oaks College, then earned two Master of Arts degrees, one in Christian Education and Theology from Trinity Bible College and Theological Seminary and one in Theology and Christian Leadership from Grand Canyon University. When she’s not ministering to others, she can be found enjoying time with her ‘ohana.
As the journey for healing and recovery continues for the Maui community, Kahu Franco is reminded of her favorite verse, Psalms 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
She says, “I don’t see this as a time of trouble but of challenge and transition. God is my protector, shelter, and provider. I always remember and can say, but look who my God is, who is with me. Ke Akua will help us move forward. Everything in God’s timing.”