Parish profile: St. Francis Xavier, Valdez

By Deacon Dan and Trish Stowe
The North Star Catholic

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic Church in South Central Alaska, is located in Valdez, at the head of the eleven-mile long Prince William Sound fjord. Fr. Turnell celebrated our first Mass in Mrs. Johnson’s boarding house in 1903. The first church building was blessed by Bishop Joseph Crimont, S.J., Vicar Apostolic of Alaska, in 1908. The 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami destroyed most of the original townsite, forcing Valdez to move to its present location. The new church was completed and blessed on December 8, 1968, by Archbishop Joseph T. Ryan. Among our original parishioners was Anthony Joseph Dimond. He started his law practice in Valdez in 1913 and was Alaska Territory Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1933-1945.

Today, Dimond High School and Dimond Boulevard in Anchorage are named after him. Every summer, the City of Valdez includes St. Francis Xavier in a tour of buildings and artifacts from the original townsite. We have pictures of the original church and the first Confirmation Class of 1908. The fourteen Stations of the Cross and the eight stained glass windows used in rebuilding the new church came from the original church.

The original altar and steeple bell from the old church sits in the foyer of the current church. As with most parishes in Alaska, we have various ethnic backgrounds from Alaska and around the world. Our Sunday morning potlucks reflect our ethnic diversity with delicious foods.

You will hear two or three different languages at these gatherings. We have approximately 80 families. Fr. Eric Wiseman is our parochial vicar, assisted by Deacon Dan Stowe. One long-standing community tradition is the Walk to Bethlehem during Advent. All the local churches participate; St. Francis Xavier’s children portray the angels appearing before the shepherds. In the two years before the pandemic, we worked with Epiphany-Lutheran Church next door to host neighborhood-wide BBQ picnics, as well as Good Friday Faith Walks with Stations of the Cross. We plan to resume our neighborhood-wide BBQs, Good Friday Faith Walks, Sunday morning potlucks, and the Walk to Bethlehem after the pandemic is defeated.

St. Francis Xavier Parish,
357 W. Pioneer Drive, at the corner of W. Pioneer
Drive and Hazelet.
Phone: (907) 835-4556.

'Parish profile: St. Francis Xavier, Valdez'
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