The Diocese of Juneau is the smallest Diocese in the United States, with a Catholic population of 10,600, and in some ways one of the larger, 53,000 square miles in area. The Cathedral is undoubtedly the smallest in the U.S. The Diocese is located in the Southeastern Panhandle of the State of Alaska and geographically it is strung out along five hundred miles of islands, peninsulas and fjords in an area where the glaciers literally meet the sea. As is true of almost the entire northwestern coast of the North American continent it is accessible only by air or sea. The primary inter-city means of travel are the Alaska Marine Highway System (the Alaska Ferry) and Alaska Airlines. Small villages are accessed by either smaller bush air services or local ferries. Transportation is at best a “probable” thing; there is a saving in Alaska when one is traveling: “weather permitting.” This is the setting for the Diocese of Juneau.
The allure of Southeast Alaska is its scenic grandeur. This brings the hardy out to hike and camp as well as those who “cruise” through to catch a passing glimpse of Alaska. Most of Southeast Alaska population owes its roots to the Gold Rush influence as the major cities are almost all due to mining activity around the turn of the 20 Century. These were the original “non- native” populations of the region. Today there is a mixture of those coming during or after the Gold Rush and the native Alaskan population of Tlingit and Haida peoples. The Native Alaskan population has become a definite minority in today’s Alaska. Still their art and craft work is becoming highly prized and their cultural values are becoming appreciated. There is a lot of work being done to preserve the native heritage from language to their arts and of course their drumming and dancing. Life in the Southeast is not as harsh as in the rest of Alaska and can be quite satisfying. There are opportunities for those who seek out an isolated life in a village or those who are dedicated urbanites in one of three major cities.
The population total of 66,755 from the 2000 census has grown to over 75,000. This is up from the mid-nineties estimated numbers with most of the growth taking place over the first part of the decade. Since about 2005 the growth rate has flattened out due to the diminishing economy and movement of state government to the Anchorage area.. It is difficult at this time to project future economic growth and development. Numerically the Church holds its own at about 10% of the population.
While there is a great grandeur in the numerous fjords and glaciers of the region the geography makes for limited economic opportunities. Since shipment of goods would be cost prohibitive there is no manufacturing industry in Southeast Alaska. Initially populated due to the discovery of gold the later economic engines were to be forestry and fishing. At this time there is very little mining left in the Southeast, most logging has been curtailed and the fishing is annually providing diminishing results. The new primary industry has become tourism with tour ships bringing as many as 10,000 visitors in one day to Southeast cities. Even with a dwindling economy living in Southeast Alaska continues to be an expensive proposition due to high costs of travel for people and freight.