Little Diomede Island lies in the middle of the Bering Strait, a 57-mile-wide channel of water that separates the Asian and North American continents. The Island is one of two rocky crags of land located in the Strait, the other being Big Diomede Island. The islands were named in 1728 by explorer Vitus Bering in honor of Saint Diomede. Big Diomede belongs to Russia, Little Diomede to the United States. Though the two islands are just three miles apart, they are also separated by the International Date Line. Thus, the people of Little Diomede look across the water to Russia, and to tomorrow.
Little Diomede Island is flanked on all but the southwest side by steep cliffs, and is lashed year round by strong winds and waves. Accessibility is limited. There is no airstrip due to steep slopes and rocky terrain. Ski planes land on an ice strip in winter. Few float plane pilots attempt landings on rough, often foggy seas in summer. Semi-regular flights are scheduled from Nome, weather permitting. Ease of access improved with the advent of the helicopter but adverse conditions still strand people on or off of the island for days.
The Island's single village, located on the southwest slope is often noted on maps as "Ignaluk," but is usually referred to simply as Little Diomede. Its population, according to 2011 Alaska Department of Labor Estimates, is 107. It is a traditional Inupiat Eskimo village with a subsistence lifestyle. Walrus, seal, polar bear, blue crab, and whale meat are preferred foods. Seal and walrus hides are used to make parkas, hats, mukluks, furs, and skins for trade. The Diomede people are excellent ivory carvers.
Catholic presence first came to Little Diomede in 1913 when a Jesuit priest visited from Nome. Priests from the Society of Jesus continued serving in the ensuing years. A rustic old house served for liturgies until a church was built and dedicated to St. Jude in 1936. It was replaced when the present St. Jude's was built in 1978. Diocesan priests; and priests of Marians of the Immaculate Conception; and the Eastern Orthodox Rite have also served at St. Jude parish over the years.
Religious sisters have played an important role as well, notably the Little Sisters of Jesus who maintained a residence on the Island from 1954 until 1996. Dominican Sisters; Ursuline Sisters; and Sisters of Saint Joseph have also made extended visits to teach catechism and assist the people with sacramental preparation.
As has been the case for many years, Saint Jude parish is still served by priests visiting from Nome.