Some Catholics take the challenges of making it to Sunday Mass head-on, quite literally. Such was the case with George Cebula — a 75-year-old who lives in remote McCarthy at the foot of Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains.
On a Sunday in late June he left his home at 6 a.m. and began the 130-mile trip to the nearest Catholic parish — Holy Family Church in Glennallen.
Mass begins at 10 a.m. but Cebula regularly makes this four hour trip, which sometimes includes dealing with flat tires, stubborn buffalo, moose and other Alaska wildlife, road washouts and come what may in the form of obstacles between him and Holy Eucharist.
“A couple of times, I had to turn around,” recounted Cebula, 75. ”The road had washed out.”
But washouts pale in comparison to that late June drive, when he neared Kenny Lake at around 9 a.m. and a vehicle going in the opposite direction suddenly veered into his lane. Cebula’s reaction to avert the head on, squarely grill-to-grill, may have saved the lives of both drivers. He escaped the accident without injury, but the crash left his pickup truck totaled. Cebula says the driver in the other vehicle fell asleep. As of last month, Cebula was without transportation as his insurance company would not extend the courtesy of a loaner vehicle.
“They said they wouldn’t offer a loaner because of where I lived,” Cebula explained.
Though he lives 130 miles from his parish in a remote corner of Alaska’s vast eastern interior, Cebula’s life lacks nothing in the form of the Catholic practices. The rosary has become a daily fixture for him, he explained, as have daily Catholic prayers, readings for the daily Mass and petitions to Our Lady of Lourdes. Like a surprising number of other remote communities, McCarthy is linked to the rest of the world via satellite TV. That amenity offers the opportunity to take in daily Masses on EWTN.
“That’s the main reason I ordered satellite,” Cebula said. “So that I could get EWTN.”
In addition to prayer and liturgy, there is Catholic service which is particularly needed in remote regions where neighborly help is a necessity.
“You try to treat everybody like you’d treat yourself,” Cebula said. “Nothing is so important that you can’t stop and go help somebody.”
Cebula is a lifelong Catholic. He moved to Alaska from his home state of Ohio in 1965. After retiring from a career with the National Weather Service, he moved out to the McCarthy area in 1994.
Recently he bought a house in Arizona and resides there from October to March.
Cebula noted that his stint with the weather service had sent him around the state. He attended Masses at Haines, Petersburg, Kodiak, Barrow, Attu, Shemya and other far-flung communities across Alaska.
Though the latitude, longitude and weather varied among the many Alaska locations to which Cebula has traveled, Holy Mass and the priests who celebrated them have left him grateful, even if it means making a 260-mile roundtrip journey for Sunday Mass.
“The thing is, I was brought up Catholic,” he said. “I always found peace when I went to Mass.”