Parish profiles: Saint Mary’s

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Kodiak is the first permanent European settlement in Alaska, dating back to the Russian settlement in 1784. In the 1800s, missionaries were able to serve it on rare occasions. With World War II and the establishment of a naval base, the population increased, and land was purchased for a church. The building of the Church was associated with the Grey Nuns, who took over the operation of Griffin Hospital in 1944. The parish school was established in 1955. In 1964 a tsunami wiped out downtown Kodiak and led to the relocation of the Church.

Kodiak is located in a sub-arctic rainforest and gets 81 inches of rain a year, which means constant maintenance to prevent rot. I’m not too fond of rain, but people here are used to it. I was grumbling about the rain one day until I watched the kindergarteners go out to recess with smiles on their faces and half of them without jackets in the rain I was grumbling about.
The parish has about 500 families; roughly 65% are Filipino and 15% Latino. We’re easily the most “Catholic” church on the island, for we have the most diverse ethnicity, income, and education levels of any of the churches. We have great pot lucks, where we serve lumpia, tacos, pupusas, shanghai, salmon, roast pig and many other cultural delicacies. Simbang Gabi (the ten days before Christmas) is a beautiful celebration, as are other cultural events.

Kodiak is the second largest fishery in the US, and everything revolves around fish. When there is fish, there’s work, and when there’s no fish, there’s high rent, high prices and no money. We’re not a wealthy parish, and many parishioners are “economic migrants” who work here and send money “back home” to support their extended family and communities of origin. Many parishioners work two or three jobs and make tremendous sacrifices for their families. In many cases, the American Dream and immigrant success story are being written on Kodiak today. Parents are coming with nothing, taking whatever job they can get, educating their children who then go to college or the military or business, and have a better life because of their parent’s courage, work and faith.

St. Mary’s School is the most remote Catholic School in the United States and has 64 children from preschool to eighth grade. The Grey Nuns led an outstanding ministry with the school but left in 2009. In 2012, Brian Cleary took over as principal, and then Brian and Teri Schneider served as co-principals until this year, when Teri took over the position full-time. She is a Catholic School success story; St. Mary’s received money from the Black and Indian Missions campaign when Teri was a student, and now thanks to their support, she has become the principal. Teri is a proud Alutiiq descendant. The success of St. Mary’s School is a testament to the staff, parents and benefactors.

We are blessed with a wonderful, hard-working choir, an active Knight of Columbus, a solid Couples for Christ community and numerous parishioners who minister behind the scenes and keep St. Mary’s faithful and fruitful.


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