By Tami M. Scime
The North Star Catholic
Nestled at the northern end of the Lynn Canal in a valley bordering Canada is the small town of Skagway.
Founded in 1897, its population during the height of the gold rush swelled to over 3000. While Skagway might see a higher population during a typical summer season, its current year-round population is 900-1000 residents. Out of that population are approximately ten households who make up the parish of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.
The history of the Catholic Church in Skagway is as old as the town’s. The first priest to visit the town was Father Bougis, SJ. He arrived from Douglas in the fall of 1897 and offered Mass in the homes of the Catholic families. In August of 1898, Father Turnell, SJ, came and established a mission. He made temporary arrangements to use the local school for Sunday Masses and held his first Mass there on September 8th. Three months later, the Catholic community purchased an empty store and converted it into a church and named it St. Mark. The church was filled to capacity at its first Mass on Christmas Eve in 1898.
In the years that followed, the parish was served by many priests who came and went from Skagway.
In March of 1918, Father Gallant was the first priest to be ordained in Alaska and his first assignment was Skagway. He served the area until 1959.
In the following years, the parish was serviced by many priests and Masses were said in the homes once again. Priests from Juneau also made arrangements for Sisters to visit and provide religious instruction for the children. Skagway was again a mission, but the dedication of the good people, visiting clergy and Sisters kept the faith alive and strong.
In 1979, with the help of the Christian Brothers and the parish, the current church was built.
The family of Skagway resident Father Harlay Baker, who was ordained a priest in 1941 and served his hometown, donated the property for the present church and former rectory. Funding came from the Catholic Extension Society, to which the community is most thankful.
These days the church is served by Father Perry Kenaston. He splits his time servicing the Catholic communities of Skagway and Haines. Commuting by ferry or plane, Father Perry travels to Skagway weekly to offer Mass to the faithful. When there is not a pandemic, visiting priests still serve the church and the thousands of summer visitors who visit the town each week during the summer tourist season. It is the kindness of these summer visitors that help sustain St. Therese during the winter months.
Though the past year has been challenging due to the pandemic, the faithful members of St. Therese have remained committed to their church and their faith. As stewards of their church, they pitch in to volunteer their time and energy in caring for and maintaining the church.
They look forward to being able to safely gather again for celebrations and welcoming visitors inside “The Green Church.”
St. Therese, 9th Ave & State St,
PO Box 496, Skagway AK 99840