Holy Cross is located in Interior Alaska on the west bank of Ghost Creek Slough off the Yukon River 279 miles upstream from the Bering Sea. The village was once located on a main channel of the Yukon, but the course of the river changed during the 1930s and by the mid-40s the slough on which the village is now located was formed.
The village was formerly called “Koserefsky.” It grew up around a Catholic mission and school established in the 1880s by a Jesuit priest who came to Alaska across the Chilkoot Trail. He brought with him a cross and a promise. The cross belonged to a retired bishop of Idaho, who gave the missionary party his pectoral cross containing a relic of the true cross. The promise was that a Northern Alaska mission be given the name “Mission of the Holy Cross.” In 1912, the name of the town was changed to “Holy Cross” after the mission.
Holy Cross’ long Catholic history began with a little two story log cabin mission. It was being built as a residence for priests but was quickly converted to a convent due the surprise arrival of three Sisters of Saint Ann in 1888. The sisters had come to start a school. Before long student boarders came from villages up and down the Yukon and from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and the small mission school was in full swing.
Holy Cross became the earliest training center for Alaskans living in the remote regions of the Bush. It was staffed mainly by Jesuit priests and Sisters of Saint Ann. Besides religion, reading, writing and arithmetic, boys were trained in mechanics, carpentry and gardening; while girls were trained in sewing, homemaking and gardening. Gardening was particularly important. Throughout its history, till the closing of the boarding school in 1956, Holy Cross Mission was forced to be as self-reliant as possible, especially in producing food for staff and students.
During its long history, Holy Cross saw a number and variety of structures go up and down, including a school, an infirmary, a sawmill and two churches.
The original lovely wooden frame Catholic Church was the village’s focal point. It was completed in 1906 and stood for over 60 years until, in dire disrepair; it was torn down in 1969. A new frame building was built along the same design in 1989. The Holy Cross parish has been under the patronage of the Holy Family since 1929.
Parishes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area of the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks are served on a rotating schedule by ministry teams which may include priests, deacons, and religious and trained lay staff members. Holy Family is served by ministers of Subregion B.