Walking with the Saints

Father Hiram Hisanori Kano (1889-1988) was added to the Episcopal Church calendar of commemorations by the 2015 General Convention.  His ministry has been celebrated in Nebraska and Colorado churches for years where he is known as “the Saint of Nebraska and Colorado.”  His was a ministry of reconciliation and peace during a time of intense racial agitation and hatred in America.

The details of his both his life and his ministry are described in this excerpt from a University of Nebraska Foundation article, reproduced with written permission.   

“From royal roots in Japan to humble roots in Nebraska: Proud daughter plants a seed for the future-a CASNR scholarship-in memory of her saintly father”

https://nufoundation.org/-/article-from-royal-roots-in-japan-to-humble-roots-in-nebraska

The tree of the life of this one humble man continues to grow:

Hiram Hisanori Kano.

That was his name. He came from Japan as a young man in 1916 to study agriculture at the University of Nebraska. He came from royal roots. His father was a viscount. William Jennings Bryan had visited his family in Tokyo and planted this seed in Hiram’s heart:

Nebraska.

He worked hard while in Lincoln. He knew English. He’d been tutored in the language from childhood. But Nebraska was a long way from home in many ways. He had to go from East to West. From rice fields to corn fields. From mansions with tennis courts to bunkhouses with bedbugs.

He spent his first Nebraska summers working as a hired hand for farmers near Lincoln because he wanted to learn how to work the Nebraska soil. He grew to be a good corn picker. Walking beside a moving wagon, he’d throw more ears inside it than the other, much bigger men.

Hiram graduated from the university with a master’s degree in 1919. He bought a 300-acre farm near Litchfield, Nebraska and became a farmer and a husband. He and his bride, Aiko (Ivy), worked the Nebraska soil. They planted corn, oats, alfalfa and barley. They raised chicken and cattle.

Aiko was beautiful, loving and strong. She gathered the eggs every day. On Mondays, she washed and sewed ... On Wednesdays, she baked. … On Sundays, they both prayed at the Episcopal Church in town.

God had planted a seed, too.

In his high school days back in Japan, he’d almost died after appendicitis turned into peritonitis:

I saw God. The visit was real, but I cannot tell what kind of form he was in, nor can I describe it with pen and ink. I was given a feeling of calm. I remember a pleasant feeling that my body was gaining strength.

That “miracle” changed everything for him. He was baptized a Christian when he was 20, and he vowed to go wherever God wanted him to. So in Nebraska, Hiram saw himself not just as a farmer but also as a missionary to the Japanese families in the state. He became an advocate for them and a leader. One day, an Episcopalian bishop visited the farm and asked Hiram if he’d like to become a priest to those Japanese people. At first, Hiram said no. He wanted to farm and raise his family. But eventually, after the bishop asked again, Hiram said yes. He felt it must be where God wanted him to go. 

He became Father Hiram Hisanori Kano.

He also was a father to a son, Cyrus, and a daughter, Adeline.

Dec. 7, 1941 – the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor – changed everything for the family.

The FBI arrested Hiram that very day because of his close ties to the Japanese elite and because of his leadership role in the Japanese community. (He was not yet a citizen. Foreign-born Japanese could not be U.S. citizens until 1952.) He stayed interned, behind bars or guarded walls or on house arrest, for most of the war. 

But he stayed close to God.

In his memoir, he wrote about how he viewed each new place of internment as one of his “churches.” By then he was middle age. Most of the men he ministered to in those internment camps were much younger. They were Japanese, German, Italian. Many were scared or angry. Many needed God.

Hiram planted many seeds.

Of the 700 Japanese living in Nebraska at the time, he had been the only one arrested and interned. But he didn’t let it harden his heart.

“He might have been bitter in the beginning,” his daughter, Adeline Kano, said.  “But bitterness does you no good. It just wears you out. I think he figured out that the best thing to do is go with the flow and do the best you can.

“And he thought it was God’s plan.”

Adeline was 14 years old when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. She also is a graduate of the University of Nebraska (‘48). She said she’ll never forget the look of pride on her parents’ faces on her graduation day. Her father, she said, always felt pride in Nebraska and its university:

I gave thanks to God for sending me to such a wonderful place.

Hiram lived for 40 years in Nebraska. He retired in 1957 and moved to Colorado with his wife to live near Adeline. He lived to be 99. He died in 1988.

He saw his four decades in Nebraska as a great gift from God. Near the end of his memoir, he wrote about how he’d acquired a burial plot in Nebraska:

… where I consider it an honor and look forward to returning to its soil when I die.

The Episcopal Church named him a candidate for its high honor — “holy man” — because in the end, the fruit of the tree of this humble man’s life was this:

Love.