Marys Igloo - Our Lady of Lourdes Mission

 

1909 St Marys Igloo church

 

"During the gold rush, a town grew up on the banks of the Kuzitrin River near the house, or igloo, of a woman whom the miners called Mary. She had often given lost and lonely prospectors food and friendship, and before long 'Marys Igloo' at the head of navigable waters of the Kuzitrin became a mining camp. As soon as the miners settled there, Eskimos from the vicinity of the Imuruk Basin also began to settle in Marys Igloo. When the mining boom collapsed a few years later, the Eskimos remained."
 

In 1906, a Jesuit priest who was stationed at the Nome parish, wrote a letter to his Superior, Prefect Apostolic Joseph Crimont, suggesting that Marys Igloo might be the best place for a new mission. That year, he visited the roadhouse of the Bruce Lloyd family in Marys Igloo, where he said Mass for them and few Eskimos whom he had previously baptized in Nome. "Convinced that Marys Igloo should have a chapel, the priest bought the roadhouse in 1907 and spent two months converting it into a chapel and quarters for a priest."


By 1907 there were 250 Catholics in the Bering Strait area with thirty-five of them living in the village of Marys Igloo. The priest began making elaborate plans for a center which was to include a church and orphanage for the Eskimo people of the area. It would be based at Marys Igloo, staffed by two Sisters, a Brother and a Priest, and the proposed house would be large enough to accommodate the staff and twenty children. In March of 1908, the priest laid out his plan in a letter to Crimont, making it clear that he felt the Church need only help the Natives organize themselves into "self-enclosed, self-sufficient social, economic, and religious communities." He was strongly opposed to the changes he felt the government schools were imposing on the Eskimo people.


In September of 1908, Crimont responded to the priest by sending another Jesuit priest, native to France, who had been studying the Eskimo language, to be the priest at Marys Igloo.


In June of 1915, after eight years at Marys Igloo, the French priest left rather abruptly "to answer the call of the tricolore of his native France." The first priest left Nome in September of 1915 to replace the French priest at Marys Igloo, where he found himself in a painful situation, as the French priest sudden departure had caused rumors and confusion, which had been escalated by an anti-Catholic campaign. Within a few months things began to settle down, and by 1916 more than a dozen new Catholics were brought into the Church.

 

For a year, the Jesuit priest remained alone at Marys Igloo ministering to the people and doing his own housekeeping, woodcutting, water carrying, and dog keeping. Then in 1917, a generous gift enabled him to continue his plan for a center by moving the church at Marys Igloo to a new location, that of Pilgrim Springs.