An Update on Our Sister Parishes in Alaska — By Br. Bob Ruzicka, OFM
Usually, I try to visit or write to you and let you know how we are doing here in Alaska. First, I want to thank you for your continued support of our Missions here in Alaska.
I was sorry to hear of our friars having to leave our parish here in Quincy. Over the years I have always enjoyed visiting with the friars who have served you over the years. I still have good memories of Brother Martin — I was in Cleveland when he died. To share a story, we were at supper when we heard of Br. Martin’s passing and one of our older priests said, “That was the last of our Good Brothers.” I had to say, “Father, there are six brothers here at the table.” He laughed and said, “That is the last of the good brothers.”
I walked with and knew many of the friars who were part of your life at St. Francis — I always felt you were blessed with the greatest friars we have. I know we as Friars try to not only bring the Word of God but also walk with God’s people. When I think of you, I see the church full of beautiful families trying to bring themselves and their families close to God. I always felt the love of God and at home every time I visited. I still remember one Sunday, when the children were the choir and sang so wonderfully. I knew that is where the new priests, brothers, and sisters will come from — from your beautiful families that will spread God’s love to our world.
I do keep the late Fr. Gary Bernhardt (a priest who grew up at St. Francis), who spent some time with us here in our villages, in my thoughts and prayers, as well.
Through your prayers and donations, you have had a great influence on our native people here in Alaska. As I mentioned when I visited your parish last time, I love the statue of St. Francis Solanus baptizing the native people in the front of the sanctuary. This statue makes me feel a special kinship with our two missions who serve primarily native peoples.
With the pandemic, we have limited access to most of our villages. Hardly anyone can come and go without testing and quarantining, and only medical or other needed visits to Fairbanks can be made. I am proud of how we are trying to protect our villages and families.
Being this isolated, we have still had the opportunity to gather to pray over the past months. We usually pray the Rosary every night in May and October in different homes, but because of COVID we gather in church and people provide food to share as we visit after the Rosary. It is hard and trying, but we are doing the best we can to keep our prayer life together at this time.
On the other hand, the donations you have sent have helped people who at this time need food and have helped with some monetary problems people have incurred because of the lack of work and the lack of available food coming in as it used to before.
One day, our bishop — Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of the Diocese of Fairbanks — was offered a boat from the owner of Hewescraft. The bishop was here visiting Nulato and he asked the men he encountered there if they felt there was a need in Nulato. One of the men spoke up and said, “You better a get a decent boat for Brother Bob, the one he uses is going to kill him someday!” The bishop asked if I would take the boat, but I needed to get the motor for it and I told them I would use the money that you have given to us. Thank you! I know the boat is bigger and safer than what I was using as the primary means to get between villages.
Also, we are getting closer to a new church in Koyukuk, and I hope to get this completed soon with some of your donations helping us to purchase pews for the Church. The church we have now is plywood and I am always amazed that they haven’t collapsed at times. Thank you for your financial support and prayers. We are praying for you and your families. Fr. Arisman has invited us to stay in better communication. I hope to write more regularly, and continue to grow the connection of our parishes. God Bless you — you are part of my heart.
You are helping the Franciscan Missions of Galena, Nulato, Koyukuk, Huslia, Ruby, Kaltag, McGrath, and Tanana. Fr. Joseph Hemmer, Fr. Thinh Tran, Br. Justin Huber, and I, and the people we serve thank you from our hearts. I wish I could come and visit you. Hopefully someday soon!
With sincere love, Br. Bob Ruzicka, OFM