The Adventure & Challenges of the Catholic Church in Southeast Alaska


My Friends,

Life in Alaska is an adventure! As the Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, I embrace this adventure with the same zeal that the early disciples had when they responded to the Lord’s message, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel.” (Mark 16:15)  

Soon after arriving in the Diocese and working with our staff on scheduling my visits to the remote missions here, I simply asked the question, “What time does Mass start?” I received this look of amazement accompanied by the statement, “It starts when you get there!” Much of our travel is “weather permitting.” We are never sure when we will arrive into a village, or even depart for that matter, because of the weather and conditions.

On my first trip to Tenakee Springs, Alaska to celebrate Mass at our St. Francis Chapel, I traveled by floatplane and learned that the people of the village gather when they hear the sound of the plane approaching, knowing that onboard is either a priest or the bishop. It became clear to me that the sound of the plane replaced the traditional church bell calling people to Mass.

As a mission diocese, covering a land area the size of Florida and possessing over 1,000 islands, it’s a major challenge just getting from place to place. Providing Mass, the sacraments and pastoral care is a major challenge too. Because none of our communities are connected to each other by road, our ten priests, three deacons, and one woman religious need to fly or take a ferry to serve our small but vibrant Catholic population. Despite the generosity of our Catholic population of less than 10,000 people, diocesan and parish revenue never exceeds our many expenses.  

As a mission diocese, annually our expenses far exceed our revenues. With only two parishes located in the Capitol City of Juneau, the other eight parishes and six missions are accessible only by plane or boat. The expenses alone for transporting priests, religious, and lay ecclesial ministers by plane and ferry to serve these communities is a major, ever increasing burden.

With God’s help and your support, our mission diocese will continue to have the resources to serve the people of God and proclaim the Gospel.

Southeast Alaska is the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the Northern Hemisphere. Over the years, our buildings have been effected by the harsh weather conditions of this climate. This reality necessitates constant maintainence and upkeep to our buildings and churches. The effects of rain, snow and ice have taken their toll on some of our structures.

Our challenges not only include ministry to our Catholic sisters and brothers living in these remote locations but also that portion of the population that is “un-churched.” Our diocese population consists of individuals, roughly 60 to 65 percent, who are “un-churched” and religiously unaffiliated who deserve to hear the Word of God and be served, as is the Church’s mandate.

Could you lend a hand and help us with these challenges and participate in the adventure of living Christ’s call to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel?” On behalf of the diocese I ask for your help with support in our efforts and become part of our work of ongoing evangelizing.

I ask for your generosity in the mission of the Church of Southeast Alaska. Help us continue God’s work as we reach out to our people who have yet to take to heart the Gospel message of salvation in Christ.

Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Edward J. Burns
Bishop of Juneau