History of Rev. Kato and the Kato Memorial Scholarship

Rev. Suzunosuke Kato was born in Tokyo at the turn of the century.

It is not known how he was converted to Christianity. He was an exceptionally brilliant student excelling in Japanese and English. His caring geisha sister helped him financially to further his theological studies at Butler University, founded by the Disciples of Christ in 1850 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Image courtesy of Lake Sequoia Retreat Archives

After graduation from the university, through the contact of Dr. H. H. Guy, Rev. Kato was assigned to the Berkeley Japanese Christian Church of the Disciples of Christ. He arrived in Berkeley in September 1923 at the age of thirty years. Just prior to his arrival in Berkeley, he underwent mastoidectomy surgery which affected his hearing and left him in a weakened condition. He died August 28, 1926 but during his short span of three years he gave his life energetically to the cause and work of God leaving an indelible and lasting legacy with the young Nisei Christian movement here in America.

At the Japanese Christian Church in Berkeley he preached to the Issei congregation, which had grown considerably due to the Immigration Exclusion Act of 1921. He also became concerned with the growing number of Niseis (second generation Japanese-Americans). Due to the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Motojiro Moriwaki, with whom he stayed, Rev. Kato was able, in the latter’s home, to bring together Caucasian and Nisei Christian leaders, including Henry Takahashi and Sumile Morishita. From this beginning a formal “Fellowship Circle” for college students was established at the Japanese Methodist Church on Channing Way on September 30, 1925 led by Rev. Kato.

About that time the Domei, composed of 28 Japanese Christian churches in Northern California, was formed into a federation (Northern California Japanese Christian Church Federation or NCJCCF). Soon after, a Young People’s Department was created and plans were made for their own Christian conference. Some of the leaders who served on this planning committee were: Margaret Tann, Miya Sanomiya, Francis Hayashi, Kazuo Kawaii, Henry Takahashi, Sumile Morishita, and others.

Image courtesy of the Lake Sequoia Retreat Archives

The first YPCC (Young People’s Christian Conference of Northern California) was held on October 24-25, 1925 at the Japanese YMCA and the Japanese Methodist Church in San Francisco. The theme was “Unity of Spiritual Forces” and Margaret Tann was elected chairperson. Rev. S. Kato played a primary role in the establishment of the YPCC. Subsequently, sectional conferences of the YPCC were held in the Sacramento Valley, Coastal, San Joaquin Valley, and Bay Area regions.

Due to failing health Rev. Kato was asked to resign from the Berkeley Japanese Christian Church by the United Christian Missionary Society of St. Louis. He had contracted tuberculosis and he went to Los Angeles where the weather was warmer. However, his condition worsened, and he was hospitalized at the Olive View Sanitarium in San Fernando Valley where he died shortly afterwards. A delegation from Berkeley arrived in Los Angeles to claim his body and on August 28, 1926, final rites were held at the University Christian Church in Berkeley which was attended by one of the largest gatherings for a funeral service during that time.

In order to fulfill his dreams and to perpetuate his philosophy of “Spiritual Forces,” an annual Kato Memorial Scholarship Fund of $50.00 was established, a substantial sum in those depression days. The first of these scholarships was presented to Masaichi Goto at the Domei’s 1929 Annual Meeting.

Fifty-four years later at the January 1980 Annual NCJCCF (DOMEI) Conference, Dr. Henry Kazato of the host Fresno Japanese Congregational Church, proposed a permanent Kato Memorial YPCC­ Domei Scholarship Endowment Fund of $30,000.00. Mr. Tad Fujita of the Berkeley United Methodist Church took up the gauntlet and with tremendous dedication spearheaded the drive to raise the money with the help of his friends, his contacts, and former YPCC members. To date the fund stands at $25,000.00. The 1982 and 1983 Kato Scholarships were made possible through the interest from the fund.

Bishop Grant Hagiya (L) and Bishop Roy Sano (R) at the BMUC 90th Anniversary

As the goal of $30,000.00 had not been reached, a proposal was made by Rev. Dr. Grant Hagiya of Berkeley at the 1983 Domei Conference in Salinas to conduct a one-time only Kato Scholarship Fund drive. Each member church was asked to schedule a Kato Scholarship Fund Sunday.  Over the years, the fund exceeded that goal and today stands at over $100,000.  Since its inception, the scholarship has gone out to about 100 recipients including some prominent figures among the Japanese-American community including Bishop Roy Sano (1957) who was the first person of Japanese-American ancestry to be elected Bishop in the United Methodist Church and Rev. Lester E. Suzuki, a prominent pastor at Berkeley Methodist United Church and historian of Japanese-American ministry.  Today, some of our most prominent church leaders have been recipients of the award. 

The above history was made possible by contributions from Sumile Morishita Oda of Tokyo, Toyo Yusa of Berkeley, Fumie Yanagisawa Nakamura of Berkeley, Tad Fujita of Berkeley and Rev. Craig Yoshihara, serving BMUC.