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Quarter 4--Diocese of Fairbanks

December 09, 2021

Diocese of Fairbanks


The diocese only had five priests available to serve all 24 parishes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region this quarter. This clergy shortage, combined with periodic village shutdowns, continues to make it challenging to provide consistent pastoral care to the faithful in rural Alaska. Priests still face significant delays when trying to get into or out of a village to celebrate the Mass and sacraments at their assigned churches. The diocese also was not able to arrange for any additional missionary priests to assist during Advent and Christmas this year. Missionary priests typically only spend a week or two in Alaska, but no clergy could commit to an additional two weeks of quarantine should a village decide to lock down during their visit because of positive cases.

In addition, one of the diocese’s longest-serving missionary priests, Fr. Stan Jaszek, was named the 2021 Lumen Christi Award winner by Catholic Extension. Father Stan has spent 30 years as a missionary serving marginalized Catholics in Peru, Africa, and Alaska. He has spent nearly two decades serving mostly Yup’ik Eskimo Catholics in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.


Unfortunately, COVID-19 has continued to make it challenging for new program directors, Dom and Lala Hunt, to conduct training. Rural Alaskan villages continue to take an exceptionally cautious approach and periodically shut down travel in and out of the community when there is a positive case. The Hunts maintain phone and email contact with parish administrators and lay ministers, checking in with them weekly to encourage creative ways to maintain the faith amidst lockdowns.


The Rural Deacon Program ordained Dominic Hunt, a Yup’ik Catholic man from the village of Emmonak. Dom and his wife, Lala, spent nearly five years preparing for the diaconate, with training conducted in person and via phone with a diverse leadership team that included two priests, a lay missionary, and Bishop Zielinski when he visited the village. Hunt’s formation was accelerated because Emmonak is home to lay missionary Patrick Tam and Fr. Stan Jaszek, who were able to meet with the Hunts fairly regularly even through the worst of the pandemic. The program director, Fr. Mark Hoelsken, has not been able to meet as regularly with candidates in other villages due to ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns.


Sister Kathy Radich spent the quarter coordinating parish feedback for the upcoming synod. She contacted parishes and guided them through establishing talking circles or reaching out via phone and email to parishioners to obtain input on the synod’s core questions about community and parish participation. This feedback is due to the chancery by January 1, 2022 to be summarized and forwarded on to the USCCB.

Photo Caption: In September, the diocese celebrated the ordination of Dominic Hunt at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the village of Emmonak. Dom and his wife, Lala, prepared for the diaconate for five years. They are seen here after the ordination with their children and grandchildren.