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Saint Kateri Tekakwitha 2021 in Review

March 11, 2022

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Mission

The goal of the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Mission in Hoopa is to be a place of peace and prayer that contributes to the well-being of the Hupa Nation. We strive to demonstrate the love of God in caring for the many gifts and graces we have received. We are aware that we exist through the help of the Black and Indian Missions. The funding over the years has greatly contributed to our development. We want to survive, revive, regrow, and to evangelize through more special activities and fundraising events.

2021 Year in Review

It has been a year to remember for so many reasons. Saint Kateri Mission assumed more responsibility for week-to-week needs; but also became more reliant on our sister parish, Saint Mary’s in Arcata, 55 miles away. All of us have noticed the shrinking of congregations. The priests at Saint Mary’s are serving multiple small communities, some of whom are nearly as remote as we are. The costs of commuting to us are significant; and only likely to increase given the uncertain times we are all experiencing.

One highlight of 2021 was the trip to the Synod at Saint Mary’s when Bishop Robert Vasa came and listened to the voice of the people. Eight members of our parish were present, and some spoke to their views on liturgy and the church as a whole. One comment made at the Synod, was the recognition that “joining together” is the only way for the smaller congregations to survive. Since then, we have had interest expressed by the Humboldt State University Neuman Center and have planned a workday retreat with some of the young people.

The Saint Kateri Mission in Hoopa weathered the worst of the pandemic carefully and with faith. Humboldt County and tribal authorities both prescribed restrictions that were difficult to contend with. We hope that 2022 will be a year of growth and change. Uncertainty was the theme of 2021 with temporary church closures due to, not only the pandemic, but also wildland fires and severe winter storms that closed main roads and almost every driveway and by-way. However, our core parishioners are steady and faithful. Our plate collection is small but miraculous considering the numbers of those present. So our challenges are also our successes.

We have had significant help from parishioners who are unable to make it to the church. We re-opened in March 2021 and have had almost continuous weekly masses since then. We were obliged to cancel masses when the air quality was hazardous during the September fires and again when the storm of December 26th closed the roads in the whole region.

Our most sustained challenge was the worst fire season in recorded history. Fires were north and south of the Hoopa valley; air quality was hazardous for months. Thankfully, the closest fire was on the other side of the river from the church buildings. Some members of the congregation come from Willow Creek and beyond; so the evacuations tested us as a community. We emerged grateful and unscathed. As an example, my husband and I had all the extended family camping in the yard with 13 adults, 9 dogs and 7 cats for a full month. Fortunately, we have space to accommodate multiple trailers and kennels. The older children enjoyed their cousins, and it was a healing time for our family. As soon as evacuations were lifted for their community of Burnt Ranch; our east side of Willow Creek was then evacuated. The sheriffs came to our door at 11 pm and we grabbed our “to-go” bag, filled the pick-up with camping gear and headed to the coast. We were blessed to have family and friends to help; but many with less resources have suffered terribly.

Our success is the teamwork of our small community in dealing with all the various challenges; we have a devoted and faithful few. Even those who live at a distance and are not able to attend every mass contribute what they can. The bulletin is distributed regularly and has helped to keep us connected. Lou Bull made the bulletin available to the community every week by email and hard copies were printed for those who do not have internet. The bulletin, the email list and last-minute communication by phone were crucial because many people travel a considerable distance to mass. The bulletin also provides a listing of the website of Saint Mary’s Parish and of on-line opportunities for prayer.

We were pleased to provide storage for a clothing give-away that benefited approximately 200 members of the Hoopa and neighboring communities. We also stored two hospital beds and have been able to help one elder returning from skilled nursing care. Clothing and bedding were gathered and made available to families needing clothes in an emergency. We helped four families in emergency situations, one example being a foster family needing clothing for an unexpected placement of three children.

There were two funerals this year, and while they were smaller funerals than usual, due to pandemic restrictions, the extended family of parish members were grateful and well accommodated. The last funeral was for the son of one of our most regular parishioners. At the gathering, a young relative reminisced on the many Easter Egg Hunts, and church gatherings she had attended as a child; so the church is dear even to those who do not attend.

The cemetery is being looked after by our good tenants at the rectory. A large grassy area provides protection in the fire season and our tenants keep a ring of green around the church. It is clearly defensible space and twice this year we trimmed the trees with a pole saw and cleared some brush around the back entry way. The students at the Neuman Center will help us continue this work at our upcoming retreats.

Our pastoral staff consists of Pastor Father Francis Gayam and Parochial Vicar Father Fabian Nwokorie. We also have the services of our retired supply priest, Father Francis Cloney. They all travel across two mountain passes from the Humboldt Bay Area. Fr. Francis is a warm confessor who carries a spirit of joy, always noticing the positive aspects of any situation. He holds out hope for our community. Fr Fabian is relatively new to us. He is very kind and more contemplative by nature. He is fearless driver in the snow; a crucial attribute for priests who come to serve here.

Father Mike is a great favorite with the community, having previously served as pastor at Saint Kateri. He volunteers weekly with St Vincent’s Dining Facility in Eureka, greeting everyone with equal respect. Because he has known our elders since they were young his contribution to the community is very meaningful. When a member of our core family was very ill last winter, he made calls to anoint and pray together with her.

I have been privileged to work for St Joseph Health, now Providence Health, so I have had the opportunity to meet many people who are seeking physical or spiritual healing. Before Covid, I would often pick up people who had expressed a desire to attend church; at least seven people over the last three years. Some are not familiar with Catholic Liturgy. I try to school them a little on the way to mass. One gentleman came numerous times. He struggled with mental illness and addiction issues; but our congregation was very kind and patient with him. Another very welcome guest is an elderly gentleman who now attends a local protestant church but whose wife is buried in our cemetery. He comes to visit every few months to tend the grave. We love his broad smile and prayerful appreciation of the mass.