Nulato 2000s


Nulato was the first Catholic mission in Northern Alaska. It was founded in 1877 by Pioneer Archbishop Charles Seghers. He dedicated it under the title Sancta Maria Ad Nives, "Saint Mary of the Snows," which later came to be called "Our Lady of the Snows." His dream was to make Nulato a permanent home base for central Alaska missions. He was to die for his dream.


The Koyukon Athabaskan village is on the west bank of the Yukon River in Interior Alaska, two miles north of the Nulato River. It was visited by Catholics earlier, in 1873, when Oblate Bishop Isidore Clut made a stop on his way to visit St. Michael downriver. Bishop Seghers, however, (he was not an Archbishop yet), remained at Nulato for a year. He visited other villages, but always came home to Nulato. The Bishop left Alaska in 1778 for what he thought would be a brief period. Eight years later, during which time he had been appointed an Archbishop, he was finally able to set sail again for Alaska.


The arduous journey via the Chilkoot Pass and the upper Yukon took longer than expected. Winter set in, but the Archbishop pushed on towards Nulato with a layman and two Indian guides. The trip proved to be too difficult for the layman, Frank Fuller, who had grown mentally unstable, and unable to deal with the difficulties of arctic travel. On Sunday morning, November 28, 1886, the very day they expected to reach Nulato, Fuller shot and killed Archbishop Seghers. The site is still called "Bishop's Rock."


Nulato remained a center of missionary activity. The year 1887 marked the beginning of many years of uninterrupted Catholic presence, especially for priests of the Society of Jesus who served in Nulato until the mid-1980's; and for the Sisters of St. Ann, who served there from 1899 until the mid-1980's. The Sisters helped open a Catholic school. They also taught English to the local people so successfully that subsequent pastors, unable to speak the Koyukon tongue, could easily communicate with the villagers. Some later missionaries also learned to speak the Koyukon language.


The Franciscan Order took over the spiritual direction of the community in 1986, and Diocesan priests served in the 1990's. Since then, visiting priests have filled in. Presently, the Interior Region of the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks contains several parishes in villages situated on or near the Koyukuk, Kuskokwim, Tanana and Yukon Rivers. These parishes are most often served by trained lay staff members whose ministry is supported by priests and religious brothers or sisters. Currently, a Franciscan Brother serves as Pastoral Administrator of this historic mission church, Our Lady of the Snows.