Alaskans honored for extraordinary service to Christ

Alaska parishes are home to countless men and women who go about the work of serving others in the name of Christ. Some of these Alaskans were recognized as embodying the servant’s heart of Saint Francis of Assisi during the Oct. 13 St. Francis Stewardship Awards at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage.

The 15th annual St. Francis Stewardship Awards called attention to ways ordinary Catholics in the Archdiocese of Anchorage live extraordinary lives.

Nominations for the awards are open to anyone in the archdiocese. The archdiocesan stewardship committee makes the final choices with the approval of Archbishop Roger Schwietz.

Below is a look at those who were selected this year.


Karel Henkel is involved in so many ministries at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage that there’s not room to list them all. She has a willingness to go the extra mile in each ministry. Henkel is a long-time extraordinary minister of the Eucharist to the homebound, bringing the Body of Christ and a sense of love, joy and community to the aged.

She can be found at eucharistic adoration in the wee hours of the night, teaching in faith formation, doing the behind-the-scenes cleanup at parish social events, or creating items for the parish bazaar. Beyond her parish, she works to collect household items for refugees and volunteers at St. Francis Food Pantry. One of those who nominated Henkel praised her as a steward who “has made lifestyle choices to care for creation by living simply, recycling and minimizing consumerism.”


Jim and Suzy Kellard’s stewardship extends from extraordinary work at St. Bernard Church in Talkeetna to charity in their community. Their impact includes fundraising and coordinating the building of a small home for a disabled person, rebuilding a home for a local man whose residence had burned, and providing a tiny cabin on their own property for a homeless individual. At the parish, they are involved in everything from arriving early to start the coffee to roof shoveling, linen ironing and church cleaning. Suzy is a lector and the president of the pastoral council. Jim was instrumental in repairing and raising church buildings following a 2012 flood and became the volunteer general contractor for the project, contributing countless hours. It would be hard to name a church event or ministry to which the couple has not donated time in the past several years. Additionally, they have been instrumental in establishing a food pantry for the community. “Stewardship is in the makeup of Suzy and Jim Kellard,” said one nominator.


At 86, Ed Hartig may be the oldest recipient of the St. Francis Award this year, an attribute which bears no relationship to his energy and commitment. Hartig and his wife JoAnn “retired” to Cooper Landing in the mid-1980s, and quickly became pillars of St. John Neumann Mission. Hartig serves as bookkeeper, custodian and grounds-keeper of the little mission that lies 100 miles south of Anchorage. He also maintains the cemetery, the final resting place of the late Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley. Armed with his chainsaw and a willingness to tackle any fallen trees or threatening branches, Hartig has earned the title “the Paul Bunyan of St. John Neumann.” He’s coordinated the remodel of the rectory’s living quarters, handles mail for the mission, and assists at Mass. He and his wife JoAnn, who have been married for 65 years, each contribute about 20 hours a week to the service of the mission. They have six children, 20 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.


Hannah Houser, 17, and Angela Houser, 14, learned stewardship at a young age. Even before moving to Alaska, the sisters had served in a soup kitchen and worked on a low-income housing project. And at St. Michael Church in Palmer, these two homeschoolers organize their time to provide a ministry of presence to the elderly and homebound, playing cards and board games, doing jigsaw puzzles and helping with chores. Their service extends to homebound neighbors as well as the Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home in Palmer. They also enjoy helping out at Slippery Gulch, the parish’s popular food booth at the Alaska State Fair. Someone who nominated the sisters described their “joy in serving” and “happiness to serve anytime there is a need.” The work of the two sisters was featured in a Catholic Anchor story in September 2016.


Patricia Murray has been a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Soldotna since 1988 when she immediately started fundraising for a new church. According to those who nominated her, Murray has a gift for enabling and encouraging others to become involved with the parish. “When you’re helping (with) Pat,” wrote one nominator, “you’re having a great time.” She promotes major projects including social events which draw large crowds from Soldotna and around the Kenai Peninsula. These include the annual Oktoberfest, a Quilt Bingo, a community-wide Halloween Carnival, a Valentine dinner and auction, a Fathers’ Day social and an Easter morning breakfast. In addition to her love of community building, Murray organizes eucharistic adoration and serves as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. Murray also responds to community needs, including opening her home to people during the Funny River fire evacuation. With an extensive volunteer resume, she is also a mother of seven and works as a nurse at the local hospital. “I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of the St. Francis Stewardship award,” wrote a nominator.


Heather Stockton “exemplifies and expands the idea of discipleship” wrote someone who nominated her for the St. Francis award. At Our Lady of the Angels Church in Kenai she leads vacation Bible school, serves as a parish cantor and marshals her whole family to address parish needs like mowing, painting and caring for church grounds. Stockton teaches the First Communion class, chaperoned a youth mission trip to Sitka, and generally says, “Yes,” when asked to help. If stewardship is best taught by example, it’s notable that those who nominated Stockton commented on how active her children are in the life of the parish, whether being altar servers or just cheerily accepting small tasks around the church. Stockton is a part-time school librarian, who, according to a nominator, “has sought out and maintained relationships with others who will help her nourish not only her own faith journey, but that of her husband and children.”

'Alaskans honored for extraordinary service to Christ' have 1 comment

  1. November 2016 @ 8:42 pm J. Baker

    Your selection of the Kellards was a good choice—-you are lucky to have them—-OMO


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