Nome sits along the Bering Sea on the south coast of the Seward Peninsula facing Norton Sound. The city serves as a supply and transportation center for the Bering Strait region.
Nome is known for being the finish line for the world famous 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but it was gold that put the city on the map. In 1898 a gold strike on tiny Anvil Creek brought thousands of miners. Almost overnight an isolated stretch of tundra turned into a tent-and-log cabin city of 20,000 people. When the gold-bearing creeks had been almost completely staked, gold was discovered in Nome's sandy beaches. Immediately thousands of miners descended upon the "golden sands of Nome."
Eventually Nome's gold rush heyday ended. The depletion of gold, a major influenza epidemic in 1918, and the Great Depression all led to gradual population decline. Alaska Department of Labor Estimates put Nome's 2011 population at 3,695. Residents are both non-Natives and Inupiat Eskimos, including former villagers from King Island. Subsistence activities are prevalent.
During the height of the gold rush, missionary priests from the Society of Jesus arrived at the tent city to assess spiritual needs. In 1899 they began gathering a small nucleus of Catholics. The first church was established and dedicated to Saint Joseph in 1901. The church steeple dominated the skyline. It had a large cross with rows of electric lights that were visible for miles. The cross was illuminated each evening at the town's expense to serve as a beacon for travelers and mushers during dark winter nights and frequent blizzards. Alas, the church had been built on unstable ground. Like many of Nome's buildings it needed annual re-leveling. By the 1940's the steeple had started to separate from the main structure and the building had become unsafe. It was sold in 1946 to a mining company who moved it and used it for a warehouse. A new Saint Joseph Church, built two blocks south of the old location, was dedicated on Easter, 1946. Finally the present Saint Joseph was built on the original site. It was dedicated by Bishop Michael Kaniecki, S.J., on March 19, 1994.
Meantime, in 1971, KNOM radio was established. The Catholic radio station has garnered numerous broadcasting awards, and is still on the air. Religious Sisters also played an important role in Nome, including the Ursuline Sisters; the Little Sisters of Jesus; and the Sisters of Providence, who operated Holy Cross Catholic Hospital (later demolished) from 1902 to 1918.
Priestly service has been provided over the decades by Society of Jesus and Diocesan priests. In recent years, St. Joseph has been served by resident deacons, parish administrators, and pastoral facilitators. A Diocesan priest is St. Joseph's present pastor.