Keeping the Faith: Few People, Vast Distances

BY Very Rev. Kieran Kilcommons

The Diocese of Whitehorse comprises the top northern quarter of the province of British Columbia and the entire Yukon Territory. This 723,515-square kilometre area has a population of about 40,000. Our Catholic population of 7,500 is served in 23 parishes and missions. As Apostolic Administrator, I travel extensively to ensure all communities have Mass at least once a month, along with travelling for funerals during the week.

Though we have a small population in our diocese, they are separated by vast distances. Simply having Mass once a month in 12 of our missions requires two priests to drive to a difference community each Sunday every month. This does not factor in the need for funeral Masses and for Confirmation in communities served by lay people. Last year, I averaged 4,000 kilometres a month just for Sunday Masses.

Below are some of our mission communities.

Christ the King Mission, Yukon

Mayo is a village in Yukon along the Stewart River and located in a well-known silver mining district. The population is 400 people and it is home to the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation.

The Catholic population is small. However, the Catholic Church is the most visible presence in the community and the only one offering regular services.

Christ the King Mission in Mayo has a serviceable church and rectory. This mission needs support to keep the building in good repair and to pay for the cost of providing a supply priest from Dawson City.

St. Theresa’s Mission,Telegraph Creek, Yukon

In addition to the sustenance and building upkeep costs required to support our new missionary family, Josh and Denise Grimard in Telegraph Creek, funds are needed to allow them to undertake projects while they are there. This includes new roofing on the church and a wheelchair ramp for elderly parishioners.

Communion services are held weekly and regular Masses are performed once a month when a priest makes the eight-hour journey from Whitehorse. The Catholic Church is the only Christian presence in the community.

Besides facilitating Church services, Josh and Denise are involved in various local gatherings. Denise continues to refine her catechetical skills. Josh also travels to Iskut and Dease Lake for funeral services when there is no priest available.

Our Lady of Fatima Mission, Iskut, British Columbia

The community of Iskut is quite isolated. It is located 734 km from Whitehorse and 500 km from Terrace, British Columbia, the two closest main centres. It is a small mostly Aboriginal community of Tahltan First Nations who have a long and vital history with the Church.

A priest goes to the community once a month for Mass and other sacraments, and is on call for funerals.

Unemployment in the area is very high, and when there is work, it often means travelling out to the mining camps for weeks at a time, which is difficult on family life. Many of the high school students must travel to Dease Lake or Terrace for school, so the dropout rate is high. However, the people in the community have a great love of the Catholic faith and Church.

St. Michael’s Mission, Ross River, Yukon

Ross River is home to about 300 residents, 95 per cent being Kaska/Dene people. It is about five hours northeast of Whitehorse and an end-of-the-road town.

We have been able to connect with the people through day-to-day living and giving such as gardening, raising chickens, helping with small mechanical work, among others.

Lay missionary couple John and Irene Morin have been a part of Kaska community for five years now. Their contributions reach into many areas of community life and they have been well received. John has done renovations including a special project to avoid the flooding that happens each year and to provide a small chapel attached to the rectory.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Mission, Teslin, Yukon

Operational expenses are always pretty hefty in Teslin mission, especially the winter’s fuel bill.

The mission is not able to support itself and the diocese has had to provide about $20,000 each year for the past two years.

Teslin is located 200 km southeast of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway, on the shores of Teslin Lake.

Today, Teslin is a community of about 400 people, 85 per cent of whom are Tlingit First Nation. The Tlingit community is a faithful community that deserves all the support it can get.