Pilgrim Springs - Our Lady of Lourdes Mission

 

Pilgrim Springs


Pilgrim Springs is located 60 miles north of Nome on the left bank of the Pilgrim River. Mineral hot springs welling up at the site made it a perfect place for a popular resort and ranch after gold was discovered on the Seward Peninsula around the turn of the century.


In October, 1917, the James F. Halpin family bought the hot springs ranch and gave it to a Jesuit priest who was now in charge of the Seward Peninsula Eskimos. The priest no longer considered Marys Igloo a suitable center for large scale missionary activity which would include an orphanage. On April 22, 1918, he moved to the ranch and began the process of turning it into a mission and orphanage. Gradually the supplies and lumber from the mission buildings at Marys Igloo were moved to Pilgrim Springs, and the ranch became the new Our lady of Lourdes Mission.


The Great Spanish Influenza epidemic that broke out on the Seward Peninsula in late 1918 stimulated the development of the new mission. The Native death toll left many orphans, and in early August, 1919, a dozen orphans were moved from Nome to the Pilgrim Springs orphanage. In mid-August a Jesuit Brother and five Ursuline Sisters joined a Jesuit priest to serve at the mission. In October a Jesuit Brother arrived to complete the mission staff.


"For two decades the Pilgrim Springs mission flourished. Its farm and gardens helped considerably toward making it self-supporting. In 1923, it was the scene of a bitter-sweet sorrow. On 15 December a Jesuit priest in his lone attempt to bring a crate of oranges to the orphans at the mission for Christmas, froze to death about four miles above the mission on the banks of the Pilgrim River."


In 1935 there were 60 children at the mission, but by 1941 there were no longer enough orphans to justify keeping the mission open. Firewood in the area had become scarce and the buildings were in dire need of repair. The last resident priest died there on January 23, 1941, and the new Superior closed the mission on July 31, 1941.