Tuesday, September 9, 2008

History: Saint Theresa Catholic Church

By Gig Currier
Naknek, South Naknek, and King Salmon, Alaska

In 1948 Father George Endal, S.J., traveled from the Lower Yukon to Naknek Army Air Field (now King Salmon Air Station) to establish a Catholic mission.

Father Endal traveled to this area from his Dillingham station as time and weather permitted. CB Radios, telephones and word of mouth provided Mass location and time. Naknek Army Air Field had an interdenominational chapel and provided lodging for visiting celery.

In the Village of Naknek, Mass was celebrated in homes with the priest often spending the night with the host family.

On September 17, 1953, 8 people were confirmed by Bishop Francis Gleenson, S.J., at Naknek Army Air Field.

In the early 1950s, A.W. “Winn” Brindle, owner of Wards Cove and superintendent of Red Salmon Cannery, donated a small building and land to the Catholic Naknek community.

The little building had been used as Red Salmon’s radio/telegraphic office. As the years went by devoted parishioners made many repairs, built pews, painted the little building its recognizable blue and added a bell tower. There was small loft for the priest if he got weathered in Naknek.

During the winter months the oil stove would be put into service the night before Mass in hopes of warming the Church enough not to freeze the wine or parishioners. Often however, the stove just couldn’t keep up with winds and below zero temperatures so coats, hats, sweaters, sweatshirts, ear-muffs, scarves, gloves, mittens and warm boots were Sunday Mass attire.

Visiting and stationed priests from Dillingham’s Holy Rosary Church came to minister to Naknek, South Naknek & King Salmon’s St. Theresa’s Catholic Mission.

Over the years many priests and sisters served the area, contributing and encouraging the Catholic community’s continuity and growth. Father Harold Greif, S.J., 1952-1967; Father Bill Dibb, S.J., 1962-64, 1966-1968 & 1998 to late 1990s; Father Norman Donohue, S.J.,1964-66.

The last years of the 1960s and through the 1970s: Father Richard Smith, O.S.A., priest-pilot, 1978-83; AFB Chaplin Father Dennis Cox 1977-79; Father John Tyma, O.S.A., priest-pilot, 1983-86. Father James (Jim) Kelley, 1991-2002; Father LeRoy “Clem” Clementich, C.S.C., 2002-05; Father Scott Garrett, 2005 to present.

In the 1970s Sisters of St. Ann, Ida Braasseur and Margaret Cantwell and starting 1986, Sister Marie Ann Brent, S.H.F. would fly to St. Theresa’s offering Liturgy of the Word with Communion Service, religious education classes, Bible study, support and encouragement. Lay Presider, Barbara Jane (B.J.) Hill, provided Communion Services when sisters or priests were not able to travel to the area.

In the early 1990s parishioners’ hard work, determination, perseverance, foresight and commitment, with Joann Bradford as a driving force, built St. Theresa’s Catholic Church located mid-way between Naknek and King Salmon.

Construction, along with many generous and valued caring contributions, was by Clinton “Bud” Woodard. Dedicated with pride on June 5, 1994, the beautifully designed Church, with awe inspiring views, has a downstairs gathering area with all amenities and dependable heat.

Thanks to Father Jim Kelley’s “outside” connections and appeals, St. Theresa’s is furnished with comfortable pews, priest vestments, altar cloths, Tabernacle, candle-holders, Blessed Virgin Mary statue, and even seasonal decorations.

Parishioner Pat Krepel skillfully crafted the ambo and the Krepel family donated the tall candle holders beside the altar. Father LeRoy Clementich’s Seward family donated the hymn board and ambry for the holy oils.

Area History

The original Village named “Kinuyak” was spelled “Naknek” by the Russian Navy occupying a Fort near the Village. With the Homestead Act of 1862 the Russian Orthodox Church acquired land on the north bank of the river and a Village developed around the Church.

The first salmon cannery opened on the Naknek River in 1890 and by 1900 there were +-12 canneries in Bristol Bay. Naknek and South Naknek, south bank of the river, developed into major fisheries. Naknek’s U.S. Post office was established in 1907.

Built near the Naknek River and 15 miles upstream from the Village, the Naknek Army Air Field began as a satellite field for the Army Air Forces in World War II. Construction began on July 1, 1942. Naknek Army Air Field supported operations throughout Alaska, especially the Alaska-Siberia aircraft ferry route.

Over the years the Naknek Army Air Field expanded with 8,500 ft. runway, numerous buildings, military operations, installations, personnel, businesses, and established post office in 1949. The Airfield was renamed King Salmon Air Station in 1954-55.

A “pioneer” road linked Naknek Village to the Army Air Field for many years. In 1949 to the early 1950s the U.S. Corps of Engineers, using the existing road bed, constructed the 15 mile Alaska Peninsula Highway between King Salmon and Naknek.

In 1962 Bristol Bay Borough, encompassing Naknek, South Naknek and King Salmon, was formed becoming the State of Alaska’s first Borough. The School District was established in 1968.

The Archdiocese of Anchorage was established February 9, 1966 with Dillingham, Naknek, South Naknek and King Salmon in Anchorage’s boundaries. Bishop Francis Hurley was named Archbishop of Anchorage in May 1996.

Archbishop Hurley, a pilot, encouraged and supported Catholic ministry in the smaller and more remote communities of the Diocese. As he implemented the reforms of Vatican II, he realized the value and promoted more active roles for lay people in the Church.

Improved air travel allowed priests and sisters, based in larger communities, to schedule visits on a regular basis to support and minister to small groups of Catholics in remote areas.

In March of 1991, in keeping with his on-going commitment to expand Catholic ministries in remote communities, now retired Archbishop Francis Hurley invited retired Navy chaplain Father James Kelley, priest-pilot, to serve in Alaska. Father Kelley, as an Archdiocese “supply priest”, served St. Theresa’s and Holy Rosary Church.

In 1993 Father Kelley became pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, which encompassed many villages, and St. Theresa’s Mission. His piloting skills were put to use flying Diocesan planes, “St. Paul and St. Peter.” His parish was the “largest in the world, and he enjoyed serving people from one end to the other, all 33,000 miles.”

Dillingham, Clarks Point, Naknek, South Naknek,
King Salmon, Igiugig, Levelock, Iliamna, Togiak, Sand Point

On March 23, 2002, while flying to celebrate Palm Sunday Masses in the Togiak area, Father Kelley tragically perished in a plane crash.

Father LeRoy, “Clem” Clementich, C.S.C, Anchorage supply priest, began serving the area April 6, 2002.

In August 2005 Father Scott Garrett was appointed pastor of Holy Rosary Parish and St. Theresa’s Mission. He is currently Bristol Bay’s circuit-riding priest.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Saint Theresa: An Introduction

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett

The following are some pictures that will help to introduce you to Saint Theresa Parish. Click on the picture to make it larger.
At the end of the pictures is a story just sent to me by Fr. Clem about the death of Fr. James Kelly. It is a very good story and well written.

Kierra before altar serving for Mass August 10 at Saint Theresa.

A memorial for Joanne Bradford whose generosity enabled the Saint Theres community to build the church building. The Bradfords, who own a bar in Naknek, have given Saint Theresa a yearly percentage from their gaming fund. Some of the money will also be used to pay for a new engine, propeller, and new paint for the Cherokee Warrior II I fly to the villiages. The beautiful statue of Saint Theresa came from Rome. Joanne's ashes are inside the memorial.

Another View of the memorial.

After Mass August 10, 2008, Mary logs in the collection while her daughter Jennifer helps out. Both Mary and Jennifer are very dedicated and active parishioners of Saint Theresa. The multi-talented fourteen year old Jennifer altar serves, plays the guitar, sings, and is a lector.

Before Mass August 10th, Barbara (BJ) Hill looks up music and signs in lectors. Several fishermen are in the front row awaiting the Mass to begin.

Before landing in King Salmon, I snap a picture of Saint Theresa from the air.

Airport at King Salmon. Runway 360, the smaller runway, is where I aborted my take off a few weeks ago because I did not have enough power to lift off. Larry ordered a new engine around the 5th of August, 2008.

Here is a picture of Naknek, Alaska in August.

Here are the late Jim Kelly's shoes. He left these shoes at Saint Theresa right before he was killed in a plane crash. Gig Currier made a glass case for them and moved them from under the credence table to under the ambo. Pease see the below story by Fr. Leroy Clementich

Story by Fr. Leroy Clementich, August 2008
Bush Pilot Captain

Actually, it was lousy day for flying in western Alaska on that weekend of March 23, 2002. For Catholics, it also happened to be the weekend of Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.

The young pilots who fly the Piper Saratoga’s for Pen Air in Dillingham were sitting around the cargo hanger, playing cards, waiting for the weather to clear.

So, Kelley walks in, Father Jim Kelley “What’s up guys?” he says to anybody who’s listening. “Not a lot, Father, we’re just sorta hanging out here waiting for blue sky.”

“Well, listen, will one of you guys take that Mass kit over there and that bundle of palms and put them in the cargo bin of my plane, it’s the Cherokee over there? I’ll go over to ops and file a flight plan?” “Ok,” one guy says. “By the way, Father, where you heading?” “Togiak”, Kelley says, “We have Palm Sunday services over there tomorrow.” “Hey, you’re not really going out in that stuff, are you father? The weather’s below the minimums: It’s 800 and a thousand feet, worse on the west side of the range.” “Hey, no problem,” Kelley says. “Once I get over Tukalung Mountain, it’ll be a piece of cake.” “Well, you’re a braver guy than we are, Father. We’re gonna stick around here and sit it out.” “Ok”, Kelley says, see y’all later.”

Kelley zips up his down jacket and heads for the plane, brushes the snow off the wings, puts on his mittens, piles into the airplane and heads out.

Couple hour’s later, some Catholic folks in Togiak call Pen Air ops in Dillingham and ask if anybody’s seen Kelley. “No,” the dispatcher says, “all we know is that he left here about an hour ago, heading west.” “Well, we’re kinda worried because the weather over on this side of the mountain is really bad: high winds and blowing snow. Anyway, let us know if you hear anything, ok? Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and we need him bad.” “Ok,” the dispatcher says, “we’ll get back with you if we find out anything.”

By then, it was already early evening, and the weather was not getting any better. By morning’s light, everybody knew that something had gone wrong. Kelley never got to Togiak.

After the weather finally lifted, search pilots from Pen Air and other local pilots flew out over the mountains west of Dillingham to check out the situation.

The search did not take long: Up on the top of Tukalung, lay a crumpled-up, green and white PA 28-181, Kelly’s plane, the Dakota. No sign of life. It took nearly until noon until they finally got a chopper up there to bring the body home.

The news of Kelley’s death hit Bristol Bay and western Alaska pretty hard. Kelley was the pastor of some 25 or so little villages from Dillingham to Naknek to King Salmon and all the way out the chain to Dutch Harbor. He occasionally would boast that he was pastor of the largest parish in the world with over 139,000 square miles of territory.

He was one gutsy guy, Kelley. Weather never seemed to bother him much: With his twin Cessna, for instance, he’d fly the 500 mile, one-way trip to Dutch in weather even the “professional guys” wouldn’t touch. “God is my co-pilot”, he’d say. Hmmm!

Of course, there were also other villages closer in, like Chignik Bay, Perryville, Nelson Lagoon, Sand Point and Cold Bay and others that he could easily reach with his Cherokee, the Dakota. For Dutch, of course, he always used the twin.

Father Jim Kelley was both a dedicated pastor and a superb pilot. He learned how to fly as a kid in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After he was ordained, he joined the Navy and served as a chaplain, retiring with the rank of Captain.

Always on the hunt for new pastoral and flying challenges, he came to the Archdiocese of Anchorage and began serving the Church in the bush, the dozens of those little villages out on the Aleutian Chain.

Stories still abound, describing his dedication to these western-Alaska outposts. He would regularly fly into one small village, for instance, where only a single Catholic lived.

On many occasions, when weather was threatening, he would radio ahead to a contact person in the village and say: “Father Kelley here folks, I’m ten minutes out. Weather’s not looking good; be out on the end of the strip and we’ll have a communion service on the wing of the Cherokee.

And so it was. Kelley would come in, do a 360, land and hand his Mass kit out to the closest person, get out and spread a white corporal on the wing and begin: “Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to His supper…. The Body of Christ” “Amen.” Then there’d be a short thanksgiving; a hug all around and Kelley would head out for the next village just ahead of the weather.

Well, that’s the story of “The Captain”, the priest-pilot, whatever; they both meant the same thing to him. It was all about flying out to “do liturgy.”

In the weeks and months after Father Kelley’s death, I would often fly the route from Dillingham to Togiak with those young Pen Air pilots. Often, as we'd fly over Tukalung Mountain, we’d slow the plane down to minimum airspeed, do a 360 and say a prayer for “The Captain.”

As I reflect on it, my intuition tells me that even after six years have gone by, a certain sacredness, a grace, still clings to that rocky crest over which a dedicated priest-pilot tried to fly so that some Catholic folks in Togiak could celebrate Palm Sunday.

On one occasion afterwards, a young pilot, flying with me over Tukalung, said. “You know, Father, if he had not tried to make that turn and if he’d flown a couple hundred feet higher, he would easily have made it. “That close? I asked. “Yup”, he said. “Take another swing around the summit”, I say. “I want to take a closer look.” The light wasn’t very good, but I’m pretty sure I could see some palms still scattered and lying there in the brush. Together, the pilot and I say “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.” We both say, “Amen.”

LeRoy E. Clementich C.S.C.