Alaska Native artist crafts gift for pope

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Alaska Native artist Theresa Mike didn’t quite believe what she was being asked to do.

This summer, Sister Mary Peter Diaz, a Daughter of Charity, requested that Mike marshal her artistic talents to craft an ornate book covering for Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz to deliver to Pope Francis along with the newly published volume, “Alaska’s Archdiocese: Faith in the Far North.” The book documents the history of Catholicism in Southcentral Alaska.

Archbishop Schwietz will travel to Rome in January to visit with Alaskan priests and seminarians studying there. For the trip he desired a special cover to go with the book he plans to give the pope. Mike had the talent to make it happen.

Originally from Kotlik, a Yupik village located at the north end of the Yukon River, Mike crafts handmade items using ivory, animal bone and fur and semi precious stones. It is a skill she learned from her mother.

“She was my mentor, teacher and guide,” Mike told the Catholic Anchor. “She taught me how to sew, bead and create our traditional garments, food gathering and knowledge of our culture.”

As a member of Catholic Native Ministry, Mike knew Sister Diaz who leads the group. When Sister Diaz asked her to make a gift for Pope Francis, Mike was shocked.

“I was in awe,” she recounted. “I couldn’t believe it. I had to let it sink in for a few days. Of all the people here in Alaska, I was selected to do this.”

Mike said she prayed about the design and eventually decided on a cover made of seal, beaver, deer and moose, depicting two Alaska Natives wearing parkas. Above them is a cross and below the state flower, a Forget-Me-Not.

Mike, who now lives in Chugiak, said it took her about two to three weeks to complete the project.

“This is an honor,” she said.


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