By Laurie Courtney
St. Christopher Mission was established in 1967 in a double-wide trailer. In those days, it was under the supervision of St. Bernard Parish in Talkeetna. Priests and deacons served both parishes as part of the “circuit.” The parish is currently under the supervision of Sacred Heart Parish in Wasilla. This makes it part of the “five parishes” group that includes Sacred Heart, Our Lady of the Lake-Big Lake, St. Christopher- Willow, St. Bernard-Talkeetna, and St. Philip-Trapper Creek. Fr. Joseph McGilloway and Fr. Armand Dice tend all five parishes with assistance from Deacon Jon Hermon and Deacon Scott Gunnell. Mass or Communion Service is held every Sunday at 9 am.
The present building was dedicated in June 2002 and benefited from the generosity of the Catholic Extension Society and many, many donors. The stations of the cross, originally from Italy, came from a monastery in New England that was replacing theirs. The corpus of the crucifix behind the altar also originated in Italy and was picked up by parishioners while vacationing. The cross was custom-made by a craftsman in Wasilla. The altar and the ambo were hand-me-downs from Anchorage and a Willow craftsman and friend of the parish made other furnishings to match. The Holy Spirit stained glass window was made and donated by a pair of long-time parishioners. The St. Christopher window was commissioned in honor of Ray Lizotte (RIP), who served as parish liaison to the archdiocese for many years.
Approximately twenty-four families make up the body of St. Christopher. The majority are retirees and many live in Anchorage and come to Willow on weekends. The parish has no paid staff. Pretty much everyone volunteers in some capacity.
Ministries within the parish are loosely organized at best. It would be most accurate to say individuals come together to perform ministries as the needs arise. The parish is represented in nearly every organization and at every community function in the area. We support the Willow Food Pantry both monetarily and with personal service. We have members in the Willow Lions Club, the Willow Library Association, the Anchorage Kiwanis, and the Fur Rondy organization. Parishioners attend the Willow Area Community Organization meetings and clean a mile of the highway during spring clean-up week. Volunteers host a fall garage sale at the church that benefits both the church and the community.
Members of the Knights of Columbus led a recitation of the Rosary before Mass each week until the recent pandemic created a pause. For nearly twenty years, parishioners have made rosaries at home during Lent. The rosaries have been sent to military chaplains, nursing homes, and Fr. Dustan Sitta in Tanzania. If you can string a bead and tie a square knot, you, too, can make a mission rosary. Religious education is home-based with support from the parish. Several bookcases house volumes on loan from numerous families and range from board books for toddlers, to complex theological works.
The folks at St. Christopher welcome visitors, but there’s one important thing to know before you come; don’t follow a navigation system to find us. We often hear of people ending up heading up Willow Fishhook Road to Hatcher Pass. St. Christopher Church is exactly at milepost 67 of the Parks Highway. When you see the milepost, look to your left and you’ll see the church through the trees.