“I thought there was no sense in me being a chaplain without examining how my own culture affected my journey in ministry. I didn’t think I could address that anywhere other than in Hawai’i.” 

-Danette Kong


Why did you decide to enroll in CPE?
While I had heard others talk about it, I initially didn’t know what CPE was. During this time, I was working on my Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Care and Counseling, and CPE training was a part of my degree requirements.

How did you initially hear about the CPE program?
Soon after moving back home I worked at a church in Honolulu and Rev. Glenn Harada’s office was in the same building. He would spend his coffee break with us every day at 10:00 a.m. and we would have these extended conversations, before which I had never heard of hospital chaplains. He encouraged me to consider pursuing that avenue of ministry.

Danette with Glenn Harada, October 15, 2018

I had already completed a stint in seminary working on my Masters in Church Music. I was also working with the Sex Abuse Treatment Center part-time as an on-call crisis counselor and while doing this work, I thought it would be great if people going through this sort of trauma had someone there with them who was a chaplain. PHM had not yet been created, but I went back to seminary to obtain my Divinity degree and work towards becoming a chaplain.

While attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, I journaled during the last few months. I thought about the irony that I was graduating from a seminary with a degree to become a chaplain in a denomination that didn’t want me because I was a woman. I had done a unit of CPE in Kentucky and enjoyed it, but I thought that was going to be it. Eventually, I worked at a hospital in Augusta, Georgia, in patient relations, and I got a phone call from Glenn. He was calling to let me know that they had started the first program for hospital chaplains in Hawai’i and asked if I would like to be one of the first CPE residents.

When and in what specific program did you participate in CPE?
I participated in the year-long residency program (four units) in 1988 at the Queen’s Medical Center. After Gail Sugimoto Leong and I completed that residency, they hired us at the Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children as part of PHM’s staff in 1989. In addition to our residency, we continued to participate in CPE along with the other chaplains under Rev. John Moody for another two units.

Danette with Jack Ryan and Gail Sugimura Leong, January 15, 1989

Did you have any preconceived ideas or notions about CPE?
I previously took a CPE unit in Louisville, Kentucky. It was quite different culturally, but it was nice because I got to experience what being a hospital chaplain was like. The patient makeup was primarily African American and Caucasian, and they were all either Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. During that time, interfaith meant a different type of Christian. Culturally, it was all southern, so faith issues were different.

Can you describe what the CPE program was like?
We were the first chaplaincy residents at the Queen’s Medical Center. I describe the experience the way my mom described making pancakes. If you are the first pancake, you are the cook’s first experiment by testing the pan’s temperature and how long to cook the batter. You usually come out looking all beat up and usually aren’t even worth tasting. If you’re lucky, you don’t look all that perfect, but you still taste good.

It was hard because they were testing a lot of different factors. There was also a ton of pressure because we were the first ones, and if we didn’t set a great model of how wonderful it could be to have chaplains in the hospital, they could just scrap the whole plan. We had to really work hard, and it was challenging because there was only one coordinator, Cary Speaker, and for most of that year, there was just Gail and myself as the two residents. There was actually one unit where each of us was on call every third night.

I could fill a book with all of the experiences I had. My emphasis was on the AIDS unit housed in one section of the hospital. During my last quarter, regulations changed, so they started to place AIDS patients throughout the hospital. I had that unit as well as the trauma unit. That experience stood out the most because of the people I got to work with and the ways that experience changed me. It changed the trajectory of my life in many ways.

What is your current job and how has CPE impacted your career?
I thank God for CPE. I can look back at it and be so grateful for it now, but I didn’t know if I could survive it while going through it. It was really challenging. It wasn’t what I saw in the hospital. Instead, it was more about the things I personally had to confront.

After my son was born and was a NICU baby for over a month at Kapi`olani, and I was hospitalized for two weeks, I left chaplaincy and did not return until he was in high school. I became the Spiritual Care Director at Pohai Nani Retirement Community and eventually moved to Maui. I retired from the position of Chaplain Coordinator for Maui Memorial Medical Center in 2016.

I was the choir director at my church until the onset of COVID. Since the recent departure of our longtime pianist, I have been filling that position for our services. I’ve also found great joy in composing and arranging choral and piano music again – something I had “set aside” during my busy years as a chaplain.

I was extremely fortunate to work under the supervision of John Moody and with my male colleagues at PHM because they were individuals who supported women. From the get-go, they wanted to see me succeed and supported both me and Gail. They supported me not only as friends but also as colleagues. That was very formative for me as a minister because I had never had that before, to be treated on the same level equally. If I hadn’t had that experience, I don’t think I could have gone on with ministry because I wouldn’t have had those types of role models.

I also could not have been more blessed than to work in partnership with Chaplain Gail Sugimoto Leong. She has remained one of my closest and dearest friends throughout the past 34 years. I learned as much – maybe even more – from her than anyone else in all my years of training. What a gift she has been to me and Pacific Health Ministry.

What impact has CPE had on you personally?
CPE taught me not to be afraid to look inside. It doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be painful or hard, but in the long run, you will be better for it. I thought CPE was going to be another internship you checked off your list, but it was like therapy to the highest degree.

Life during Covid
During Covid, I was the webmaster for an inspirational multi-faith website called Shine Your Light. It was created by four church friends and I to encourage people to pray during the 40 days leading up to the 2020 presidential election. We posted daily inspirational messages from religious leaders, artists, and musicians representing different faith groups and organizations internationally. We continued beyond the forty days to maintain the site for over a year.  My friends and I continue to encourage people of faith to speak out regarding issues of peace and justice.