Friday, August 15, 2008

Introduction: Saint Theresa, Naknek, Alaska

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett
Father Kelly Story by Father LeRoy E. Clementich C.S.C.

Saint Theresa is a Mission church of Holy Rosary parish. It is located 64 air miles South East of Dillingham and about 290 air miles South West of Anchorage. It sits on the Naknek River near Katmai National Park.

Saint Theresa is actually located in Naknek, but in reality it is half way between King Salmon and Naknek. There is one twelve mile paved road separating the two small villages. Saint Theresa sits right smack in the middle. From Saint Theresa it is approximately six miles to either village. The population of King Salmon is about 500, as is Naknek. Together, the two villages account for a total of about 20 Catholic Families.

The following are some pictures that will help to further your introduction to Saint Theresa Parish. Click on the picture to make it larger.
At the end of the pictures is a story just sent to me by Fr. Clem about the death of Fr. James Kelly. It is a very good story and well written.

Kierra before altar serving for Mass August 10 at Saint Theresa.

A memorial for Joanne Bradford whose generosity enabled the Saint Theresa community to build the church building. The Bradfords, who own a bar in Naknek, have given Saint Theresa a yearly percentage from their gaming fund. Some of the money will also be used to pay for a new engine, propeller, and new paint for the Cherokee Warrior II I fly to the villages. The beautiful statue of Saint Theresa came from Rome. Joanne's ashes are inside the memorial.

Another View of the memorial.

After Mass August 10, 2008, Mary logs in the collection while her daughter Jennifer helps out. Both Mary and Jennifer are very dedicated and active parishioners of Saint Theresa. The multi-talented fourteen year old Jennifer altar serves, plays the guitar, sings, and is a lector.

Before Mass August 10th, Barbara (BJ) Hill looks up music and signs in lectors. Several fishermen are in the front row awaiting the Mass to begin.

Before landing in King Salmon, I snap a picture of Saint Theresa from the air.

Airport at King Salmon. Runway 360, the smaller runway, is where I aborted my take off a few weeks ago because I did not have enough power to lift off. Larry ordered a new engine around the 5th of August, 2008.

Here is a picture of Naknek, Alaska in August.

Here are the late Jim Kelly's shoes. He left these shoes at Saint Theresa right before he was killed in a plane crash. Gig Currier made a glass case for them and moved them from under the credence table to under the ambo. Please see the below story by Fr. Leroy Clementich

Fr more pictures and info about Saint Theresa,

Story by Fr. Leroy Clementich, August 2008
Bush Pilot Captain

Actually, it was lousy day for flying in western Alaska on that weekend of March 23, 2002. For Catholics, it also happened to be the weekend of Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.

The young pilots who fly the Piper Saratoga’s for Pen Air in Dillingham were sitting around the cargo hanger, playing cards, waiting for the weather to clear.

So, Kelley walks in, Father Jim Kelley “What’s up guys?” he says to anybody who’s listening. “Not a lot, Father, we’re just sorta hanging out here waiting for blue sky.”

“Well, listen, will one of you guys take that Mass kit over there and that bundle of palms and put them in the cargo bin of my plane, it’s the Cherokee over there? I’ll go over to ops and file a flight plan?” “Ok,” one guy says. “By the way, Father, where you heading?” “Togiak”, Kelley says, “We have Palm Sunday services over there tomorrow.” “Hey, you’re not really going out in that stuff, are you father? The weather’s below the minimums: It’s 800 and a thousand feet, worse on the west side of the range.” “Hey, no problem,” Kelley says. “Once I get over Tukalung Mountain, it’ll be a piece of cake.” “Well, you’re a braver guy than we are, Father. We’re gonna stick around here and sit it out.” “Ok”, Kelley says, see y’all later.”

Kelley zips up his down jacket and heads for the plane, brushes the snow off the wings, puts on his mittens, piles into the airplane and heads out.

Couple hour’s later, some Catholic folks in Togiak call Pen Air ops in Dillingham and ask if anybody’s seen Kelley. “No,” the dispatcher says, “all we know is that he left here about an hour ago, heading west.” “Well, we’re kinda worried because the weather over on this side of the mountain is really bad: high winds and blowing snow. Anyway, let us know if you hear anything, ok? Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and we need him bad.” “Ok,” the dispatcher says, “we’ll get back with you if we find out anything.”

By then, it was already early evening, and the weather was not getting any better. By morning’s light, everybody knew that something had gone wrong. Kelley never got to Togiak.

After the weather finally lifted, search pilots from Pen Air and other local pilots flew out over the mountains west of Dillingham to check out the situation.

The search did not take long: Up on the top of Tukalung, lay a crumpled-up, green and white PA 28-181, Kelly’s plane, the Dakota. No sign of life. It took nearly until noon until they finally got a chopper up there to bring the body home.

The news of Kelley’s death hit Bristol Bay and western Alaska pretty hard. Kelley was the pastor of some 25 or so little villages from Dillingham to Naknek to King Salmon and all the way out the chain to Dutch Harbor. He occasionally would boast that he was pastor of the largest parish in the world with over 139,000 square miles of territory.

He was one gutsy guy, Kelley. Weather never seemed to bother him much: With his twin Cessna, for instance, he’d fly the 500 mile, one-way trip to Dutch in weather even the “professional guys” wouldn’t touch. “God is my co-pilot”, he’d say. Hmmm!

Of course, there were also other villages closer in, like Chignik Bay, Perryville, Nelson Lagoon, Sand Point and Cold Bay and others that he could easily reach with his Cherokee, the Dakota. For Dutch, of course, he always used the twin.

Father Jim Kelley was both a dedicated pastor and a superb pilot. He learned how to fly as a kid in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After he was ordained, he joined the Navy and served as a chaplain, retiring with the rank of Captain.

Always on the hunt for new pastoral and flying challenges, he came to the Archdiocese of Anchorage and began serving the Church in the bush, the dozens of those little villages out on the Aleutian Chain.

Stories still abound, describing his dedication to these western-Alaska outposts. He would regularly fly into one small village, for instance, where only a single Catholic lived.

On many occasions, when weather was threatening, he would radio ahead to a contact person in the village and say: “Father Kelley here folks, I’m ten minutes out. Weather’s not looking good; be out on the end of the strip and we’ll have a communion service on the wing of the Cherokee.

And so it was. Kelley would come in, do a 360, land and hand his Mass kit out to the closest person, get out and spread a white corporal on the wing and begin: “Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be…This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to His supper…. The Body of Christ” “Amen.” Then there’d be a short thanksgiving; a hug all around and Kelley would head out for the next village just ahead of the weather.

Well, that’s the story of “The Captain”, the priest-pilot, whatever; they both meant the same thing to him. It was all about flying out to “do liturgy.”

In the weeks and months after Father Kelley’s death, I would often fly the route from Dillingham to Togiak with those young Pen Air pilots. Often, as we'd fly over Tukalung Mountain, we’d slow the plane down to minimum airspeed, do a 360 and say a prayer for “The Captain.”

As I reflect on it, my intuition tells me that even after six years have gone by, a certain sacredness, a grace, still clings to that rocky crest over which a dedicated priest-pilot tried to fly so that some Catholic folks in Togiak could celebrate Palm Sunday.

On one occasion afterwards, a young pilot, flying with me over Tukalung, said. “You know, Father, if he had not tried to make that turn and if he’d flown a couple hundred feet higher, he would easily have made it. “That close? I asked. “Yup”, he said. “Take another swing around the summit”, I say. “I want to take a closer look.” The light wasn’t very good, but I’m pretty sure I could see some palms still scattered and lying there in the brush. Together, the pilot and I say “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.” We both say, “Amen.”

LeRoy E. Clementich C.S.C.


Anonymous said...

That is a wonderful story about Father Kelley. I'm so happy to see that he is remembered with love. He was such a lovely man.

Holy Rosary Mission said...

I agree, he left huge shoes to fill. Fr. Scott

Anonymous said...

Father Jim Kelley has left a lasting impression on those of us who looked up to him. How he lived his life is an inspiration to us all. His family and friends back here in MA will always remember him for his hearty laugh and wit.
We will always his desire to do something special with his life.
Special is what Father Jim was all about. We miss you Jim.
LJC 05-10-09

John Cody said...

Father Kelley and I were shipmates on the USS Enterprise (CVN 65). He was a fine man with a great sense of humor. We used to call him Captain Chaplin. He was a true friend to everyone on our ship. God bless him and those he served in Alaska.

Anonymous said...

Father Jim Kelley inspired me to remain in the Navy Chaplain Corps beyond my initial three year commitment. I still have fond memories of spending a week's leave with him in Alaska along with another fellow priest-chaplain. I left Alaska with the blief that Jim would never see a retirement home for priests but would die "with his boots on." He remained "Semper Fi" to the end.