Trying to contact a deacon from the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, it’s odd to find him traveling in Iowa. But that’s where Deacon George Bowder was recently, on the road visiting donors and telling the stories of the Alaskan missions around the country.
Deacon Bowder is thanking past donors and raising funds for the largest, geographically speaking, diocese in the country.
The Diocese of Fairbanks is the only diocese in the U.S. that still receives funds from the Pontifical Mission Societies.
From Iowa he went to Buckman, Minn. to visit one of many donors in the state, including more than 600 in the Twin Cities area. The diocese has more than 35,000 donors across the country.
“Once they hear the stories about what the challenges are to bring the Gospel message to this location, people are fascinated with how we accomplish, in partnering with them, so much in these very unique, very challenging, remote, isolated conditions,” Deacon Bowder said. “Just phenomenal things that God does with their help; it’s just fantastic.”
The diocese’s 18 priests serve 46 parishes, most of them mission parishes serving the Inupiat and Yupik Eskimos and the Athabaskan Indians.
There are only four pastors with a single parish, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Immaculate Conception Historic parish in downtown Fairbanks, Immaculate Conception in Bethel and St. Nicholas in North Pole. Most have a parish and then cover a mission that can be up to 100 miles away.
Funds from the Pontifical Mission Societies are used to assist those villages that are most needy with supplies such as fuel oil and food for the winter, according to Deacon Bowder, former director of finance for the diocese. The most needy parishes right now are along the Yukon River in the interior of the diocese, he said.
The diocese covers more than 1,000 miles east to west and 1,000 miles north to south, and because the area they cover is so vast, flying is a must.
“We have one retired priest and a deacon who fly our only small 172 aircraft, otherwise our priests, deacons, brothers, sisters and lay pastoral administrators fly on small planes of local scheduled airlines,” Deacon Bowder said.
The diocese is always looking for priests and deacons to assist in the diocese, he said, but they ask them to make a three-year or more commitment in order to make a connection with the people. “It’s a challenge and an adventure,” he said.
And there are challenges, he says. Because of the extreme weather conditions, especially in the western part of the state, travel plans often change. A trip can take several extra days because conditions are dangerous for flying.
The northernmost parish, St. Patrick in Barrrow, has 24 hours of darkness from mid-November to mid-February. “It’s like going to another world,” Deacon Bowder said.
Challenges aside, Deacon Bowder’s goal is to, “tell people about the stories of the missions and the diocese, the special blessings we have and how God is with us.”
Category: World Mission Sunday