Fairbanks - Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
Fairbanks is located in the heart of Alaska's Interior, on the banks of the Chena River in the Tanana Valley.
In 1901, Captain E.T. Barnette established a trading post on the Chena River called "Barnette's Cache." A year later, gold was discovered 16 miles north of the post. The town grew as the Chena steamboat brought many prospectors during the Pedro Dome gold rush. Fairbanks was named in 1902 after Indiana Senator Charles Fairbanks, who became Vice President of the US from 1905 to 1909. In 1903, Judge James Wikersham moved the seat of the third judicial district from Eagle to Fairbanks. The population continued to increase as Fairbanks became the hub of the Interior. A 2011 Alaska Department of Labor estimate put Fairbanks' population at 30,547.
Fairbanks' first Catholic community at Immaculate Conception is juxtaposed with the frenetic gold discovery in 1902 and the arrival soon after of a pioneering priest in 1904. Almost immediately after his arrival from Eagle, the priest began building the first Catholic Church in Fairbanks. The first Mass was celebrated on the Feast of All Saints, November 1, 1904.
Soon the priest began another building project, St. Joseph Hospital. To staff this, he recruited Religious Sisters. The hospital admitted its first patients in November, 1906 and sat on the north bank of the Chena River.
Immaculate Conception was originally built on the south bank of the Chena River. However, in the winter of 1911, when freeze-up arrived and the river ice was thick enough, Fr. Monroe hired a team of horses and men to move the church across the river so that it would be closer to Saint Joseph Hospital. The crew, using skids, slid the church building across the ice to the north bank of the Chena River where Immaculate Conception Church now stands.
In 1962 when Pope John XXIII officially elevated the status of the northern missions and formally established the Diocese of Fairbanks, Immaculate Conception Church became the Cathedral of the North. It remained so until 1966 when Sacred Heart Cathedral was built to accommodate a growing congregation.
The "Little Church" has seen numerous pastors in the course of its existence. One of note was a Jesuit priest who served during the late 1920's. He had Immaculate Conception Church's beautiful stained glass windows installed. He also kept the building from burning down when a furnace stovepipe caught fire in March, 1927.
On April 3, 1976, Immaculate Conception Church was listed on the National Registry of Historical Sites.