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Northern Alaskian Missionaries and their Work

There’s no way you can simply do God’s work; God’s work is never simple. The Missionary Diocese of Fairbanks Alaska in Northern Alaska, and the workers who traverse all 409, 849 square miles of this cold and often impassable terrain understand this, but they’ve found ways of getting help to the scattered communities.

Franciscans priests, brothers, sisters, lay workers all under the leadership of Donald D. Kettler, are a dedicated bunch who are also trained pilots, expert snowmobile drivers and who are also dedicated in their effort to bring the healing messages of Christ to the remotest of areas. How do they do it?

They fly, they walk, they ski, the sail, they drive, and yes, they pray. While getting to where help is needed is not always possible since the frozen tundra prohibits land vehicular travel, the skyways are their best travel modes. In all 46 parishes, only nine are accessible by roads, and of course, even these aren’t the easiest roads to maneuver through snow and ice.

They sell books

A sampling of books for sale in their store: A Kindly Providence-An Alaskan Missionary’s Story by Rev. Louis L. Renner S.J.;   Alaska Catholica by Rev. Louis L. Renner, S.J.; Gleeson, The Last Vicar Apostolic of All of Alaska; [The first Bishop of Fairbanks]; A Brief Illustrated History of the Diocese of Fairbanks by Rev. Louis L. Renner, S.J., Madeline D. Betz, and Betty J. Johnson;

Our Lady of the Arctic Snows

Ten notecards with pictures of the beautiful Lady dressed as an Eskimo sells for five dollars. Although this Our Lady devotion is less well known than others, Our Lady of Lourdes, Mother of Mercy, etc., Our Lady of Arctic Snows has its origin in early Christianity. It’s another fabulous legend attributed to the intercession of this lovely lady who is always ready to help her children.

The time was 352 AD: “Mary had indicated in a dream to a wealthy, childless Roman couple that she wanted a church built in her honor and the site for this church would be covered with snow.  On a hot, sultry morning on August 5, Esquiline Hill was covered with snow.” The church was built and today it stands today in the same location, although repaired and refurbished many times as the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Fr. Paul Schulte, O.M.I., known as “the flying priest of the Arctic,”  was especially devoted to Our Lady of the Snows. He built a small church in her honor and he is well known for flying medical supplies in from Detroit to the Missionary Oblates.

St. Teresa

St. Teresa is the patron saint of the Northern Alaskan Diocese. Each September they begin their annual Novena to her. She’s a favorite of many who are devoted to her simple and unassuming humility. The Novena lasts for nine days. It ends on October 1st, the feast day of this delightful little saint. On each of these days a Mass is offered for those who have special petitions and who need her to intercede for them.

Other ways the missionaries of Northern Alaska carry out their work in addition to prayer, patience, perseverance and dedication is writing. The Alaskan Shepherd, a newsletter where they alert outsiders to their ongoing activities and where they make known their needs and their request, keeps the lower 49 states, and the rest of the world, in tune with their missionary work. A recent newsletter tells of the amazing adventure of devout priest, who, after Hurricane, Katrina destroyed parts of Louisiana, heard the call to serve and now is serving in Alaska. It’s one many heart-warming stories coming out of this God [not] forsaken place.

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