Dear Religious Family
We want to recount the start of the new mission in Fairbanks Alaska.
Accompanied by Mother Immaculate Conception and Mother Cenaculo, filled with excitement and anticipation on the feast Day of the heroic missionary of the other detached state, Damian of Maloki we departed from Washington D.C. and started our journey toward Alaska, the “Land of the Midnight Sun” (especially in this time of year).
All that was determined essential and necessary for this new foundation, so remote and far from any other mission was portioned between seven bags. Once arriving at the airport we couldn’t proceed with our check in process until each bag was under 52 pounds. There was no mercy for two (or 10!) pounds over. Thus, moving to the side of the check in counter, we started opening the bags and rearranging. At first, it seemed as though we couldn’t go with everything. It was quickly recognized that the only non-negotiable item with us was Our Lady of Lujan. Therefore, we decided to carry her in our arms ensuring she would arrive safely. Now that she was unloaded from her “cart” all the bags were able to be arranged with in weight. We were free to continue with our travels: again she wanted to stay with us.
After 12 hours of traveling we arrived in Fairbanks Alaska to be greeted at the airport by Bishop Chad Zielinski, Fr. Juan Sierra. IVE, Fr. Robert Fath, the vicar general and a few of the faithful parishioners. After taking a few pictures and gathering our luggage they drove us to the new convent. At 10pm with the sun shining the Bishop blessed our new home and gave us Benedictine medals to place in the four corners of the property and in each room.
After dinner we went to the room that would be our chapel bringing our Lady of Lujan and we dressed and crowned her. Before retiring for our first sunshine-filled night, we sang to Our Lady, giving thanks and entrusting to her this new mission—where she came to stay.
We wasted no time in the first week. While we had to spend some time getting the convent together, we also got to know some of the faithful at a vocational event and a First Communion Mass all with in the first couple of days. We also took the opportunity to tour some local sights—learning about the culture of this northern region at the local history museum, and going to see the Musk oxen farm on the University campus (an animal that is native only to Alaska).
On Friday afternoon while the mothers who accompanied us were cleaning and cooking brunch for the following day the three of us made preparations to have the first Mass in our chapel. We did all we could to prepare in the best way possible considering our limited resources. Bed side tables and an entertainment stand covered in white linens sufficed for a makeshift credence table, statue stands, and to hold our tabernacle, borrowed from the Bishop’s house. (Our altar and all the other details were also generously loaned by the Bishop). With a few small touches (using corporals given to us by the contemplatives in Brazil to adorn our plain white linens; a few flower arrangements; and an unused keyboard found at the parish) our chapel was almost complete. After two hours the last detail was added—we finished by hanging on the walls of the sanctuary the Cross of Matara and the IVE shield. Our chapel was now ready.
The next day at 8:30 we had the Holy Mass celebrated by Bishop Chad, Father Alberto Barattero, IVE and Fr. Juan Sierra, IVE. In the homily Bishop Chad gave words to encourage us in the start of this mission. He said, with my authority as a Bishop, as successor of the apostles, I say to you go throughout this diocese and let the light of your baptism shine. As he often did during this week while addressing the sisters and fathers he closed his homily saying, I thank you for your yes. For your yes to your vocation, for your yes to the mission and I thank you for your yes to our diocese.
The official opening Masses for our mission with the lay faithful were on Sunday at the Sacred Heart Cathedral. The first Mass was at 11am with the English speaking community and the second at 1pm with the Spanish speaking community. Both were followed by receptions where we were able to meet many of the faithful from around the diocese. We felt very welcomed by everyone’s enthusiasm to meet and speak with us.
During the flight here, throughout the week and at the opening receptions we had many opportunities to tell the people that we are here in Alaska as missionaries; the response would often spark a question of how long are you staying? They are used to priests and missionaries coming for a few years, then moving on to another diocese. Naturally they wondered would we be here for a few weeks, months, or years. With these questions, we were each time more grateful to be able to respond: we have come to stay.