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Map of Diocese with Contact Information




Diocesan Magazine

Diocese of Fairbanks e-Magazine, Nov 2020

The Alaskan Shepherd



Arctic Footprints

Spring 2020



Nightmute is a Central Yup'ik Eskimo village located on Nelson Island in western Alaska in the Yukon- Kuskokwim Delta. Nelson Island has been inhabited by the Qaluyaarmiut ("dip net people") for some 2,000 years. The area was relatively isolated from outside contact and has kept its traditions and culture. The population, according to the Alaska Department of Labor Estimates, was 289 in 2011. Almost all families engage in either commercial or subsistence fishing, and most have fish camps. Commercial fishing permits are for herring roe, salmon drift, and net fisheries. Umkumiut, once an inhabited village site, is now the traditional site of the spring sealing and summer fish camp of the people of Nightmute. 

Catholic missionaries were active on Nelson Island as early as 1889, but then for roughly four decades the area was visited only occasionally. Early evangelization of the Nightmute community is credited to lay catechist Simeon Sipary, whose work began in 1929. Called "the sterling catechist," Sipary was credited for the conversion of many Nelson Islanders. He died at Nightmute in 1931.

Also in 1931, a crew arrived on the mission barge, "The Little Flower," with a load of lumber and supplies from the Holy Cross Mission sawmill. The crew included missionary priests from the Society of Jesus and several "big boys," older students from Holy Cross Boarding School. Together they built the first chapel in Nightmute. Later, in 1938, a small living quarters was added. Finally, in 1949, a new church was built and was dedicated under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

The spiritual needs of the Nightmute community have been tended to by missionary priests of the Society of Jesus and by Diocesan priests. Religious Sisters of St. Ann also ministered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the 1980's.

Because of priest shortages, parish administrators have served since the 1990's to take charge of the day to day activities of parish life. Deacons often celebrate the liturgies at Nightmute giving homilies, and assisting with marriages, baptisms and funerals.

Presently, 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, religious and trained lay staff members. Celebrations of the Word with Holy Communion replace Sunday Mass when priests are unavailable. Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish is served by visiting priests and ministers from the Diocesan Yukon-Kuskokwim Subregion D.