Our Diocese

Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks Mission Statement

We are people of God in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks. Blessed with a rich variety of backgrounds and talents, we strive to be a living reflection of the Universal Church.

Through our baptism, we continue Christ's mission to further the kingdom of God through the human family. We share our living faith by proclaiming the Gospel in word and example. Together we celebrate Christ's presence in worship and sacraments.

In a spirit of justice, mercy and love, we dedicate ourselves not only to minister to the people in the urban and rural areas of our Diocese, but also to minister to the world community.

Fairbanks & Road System Region

Healy Parish

From the Diocesan Directory:

Healy lies at the mouth of Healy Creek on the Nenana River, 78 miles southwest of Fairbanks. It is located on a 2.5-mile spur road, just north of the entrance to the Denali National Park and Preserve on the George Parks Highway, at mile 358.1 on the Alaska Railroad.

Because of its proximity to Mt. McKinley Healy has a seasonal tourist trade, but is basically a rail belt coal mining community. Its roots lie 3.5 miles east of today's town site in an early 1900's mining camp called Suntrana, now generally known as Usibelli Coal Mine.

Likewise, today's Holy Mary of Guadalupe parish has its roots in the Suntrana-Healy area. In the early 1950's priests began making infrequent visits to the area. By the mid-1950's Bishop Francis Gleeson, S.J. visited Suntrana twice a month, travelling there from Fairbanks by train or plane. In 1957 construction on a church building began. The interior was still not finished, when a Jesuit priest celebrated Easter Mass there in 1959. This first church was named "St. Mary's."

In the 1960's a road was "punched through" from Nenana to Healy. It was reportedly not much more than a "tundra trail" at first, but it began an era of growth and expansion. People began settling in Healy's present site and in the 1970's people in Suntrana began moving there from the original camp. The road also made the Suntrana-Healy community more accessible to priests stationed in Nenana. As the coal mining community grew, so did the Catholic community. A bigger church was needed in the new town site.

Around 1980, the Bishop assigned the task of building a new church to a Diocesan building committee spearheaded by a Jesuit priest. Bishop Whelan dedicated the new church on May 30, 1982 under the title of Holy Mary of Guadalupe, thus fulfilling a promise the Jesuit priest made at the Shrine to Holy Mary of Guadalupe in Mexico to build a church in her honor. The original St. Mary's Church in Suntrana was eventually sold and moved to Healy where it was converted into a private home.

Visiting Jesuit and Diocesan priests continued to serve Healy along with other small communities on the "rail belt" like Cantwell, Anderson, Denali National Park (summers) and Clear Air Force Base until 1996 when a Diocesan priest made Healy his headquarters. A Dominican Sister served as Pastoral Administrator on the "rail belt" from 1989 -1991, during which time she encouraged lay participation, training several lay leaders in different areas of ministry. After she left, Ms. Barbara Walters was appointed Pastoral Administrator for the Healy parish. She still serves in that capacity. A Diocesan priest is Healy's current pastor.

Nenana Parish

From the Diocesan Directory:

Nenana is located at the crossroads of the George Parks Highway and the Alaska Railroad and at the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana Rivers. The location is 58 road miles southwest of Fairbanks. The unique setting makes Nenana "a good place to camp between the rivers," a rough translation for the original Athabaskan Indian name for the settlement now known as Nenana.

Like many towns in Alaska, Nenana began as a traditional gathering place for Native Alaskans. Russian traders and explorers arrived in the 1800's, and the discovery of gold in Fairbanks in the early 1900's brought more people. Construction of the Alaska Railroad spurred continued growth and created a crucial transportation link between Fairbanks and the port of Seward. On July 15, 1923 in Nenana, U.S. President Warren G. Harding drove the "golden spike" that signaled the completion of the 471-mile Alaska Railroad.

Modern Nenana has managed to retain its village ties and subsistence lifestyle. The population of 395, according to 2011 Alaska Department of Labor Estimates, is a diverse mix of non-Natives and Athabaskans.

The Catholic community in Nenana has always been small. Society of Jesus priest built a church at Nenana around 1918. The Nenana mission was listed for the first time in The Official Catholic Directory in 1923 as St. Theresa, the name by which it is still known. It is not clear, however, which Theresa was meant. Nenana Catholics have long considered their patroness to be St. Therese of Lisieux, "the Little Flower," whose name is spelled differently, and who was not canonized until 1925. Some say the original patroness may have been St. Theresa of Avila.

The original church burned to the ground on December 19, 1952. Lost in the fire was a pectoral cross handed down from Archbishop Charles Seghers to Bishop Francis Gleeson, S.J.. By October 1953, the church was replaced with the present one on the same foundation.

The village of Nenana marks the beginning of a string of tiny parishes along the "rail belt," including the communities of Anderson, Cantwell, Clear Air Force Station, Denali National Park, and Healy. After the Parks Highway opened in the 1970's, most priests serving the rail belt parishes used Saint Theresa as their home base. Later the Healy parish took over the role of rail belt headquarters.

St. Theresa has been served by Jesuit, Dominican and Diocesan priests over the years. Religious Sisters also played an important role, including Dominican Sisters and Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary.

Presently, St. Theresa is served by an acting parish administrator who oversees day to day parish life. Priestly visits are made from Healy by a Diocesan priest.