Our Lady of the
Officially named in
1953 Our Lady of the
Angels Catholic Church
is located in the city of
Kenai on the Kenai
Peninsula as part of
the Archdiocese of
Anchorage. The church
started out life in a little
log cabin with the
constructed in 1968.
Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church: A History
It was not until 1905 that a Catholic presence on the Kenai Peninsula began with Fathers Tunnel and Handley ministering to Alaska Railroad workers in Seward. In 1910, following the construction of the first Sacred Heart Church, a succession of priests to include Father Arnold Custer, staffed the church and newly constructed hospital. Father Custer became known as the “Trap Line Priest,” and was responsible for missions across the ten thousand square mile Kenai Peninsula.
The Kenai area grew dramatically in the 1950’s, leading Father Custer to decide that Kenai needed a permanent place for the Catholic community to worship. The first services were held in the Old Territorial School, and later a shed on Louisa Miller’s property. As the parish grew, a more fitting church was needed. A donation from the Seaman family in memory of their son, David, and supplemental donations from Anchorage benefactors allowed the parish to purchase three lots on Willow Street in December 1952. It was at this site, that parishioners labored between 1954 and 1955 to erect the log church. In the spring of 1955, Father Thompson celebrated the first mass in the new church.
In 1953, Our Lady of The Angels (OLA) was officially named, and was the only Catholic church on the western Kenai. OLA served parishioners from Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling, and Nikiski, as well as summer fishing industry workers and visitors. Between 1952 and 1961, there were 45 baptisms, 8 marriages, and 4 funerals officiated at OLA. The log church on Willow Street was a fine home for the parish, but parking became a problem, prompting the move of the church to a more spacious location. In 1966, the church was moved to Forest Drive in Kenai. The new location alleviated the parking problems, but the parish had experienced a large growth spurt, due in part to the newly relocated families of the Unocal/Collier complex in Nikiski. The need for a larger church was made clear when part of the congregation was forced to stand outside to attend services. During the summer months this was inconvenient, but in the winter months it was unbearable. Through pledges from parishioners, a grant from the Extension Society, and a loan from the Diocese, funding was secured and lots were purchased on South Spruce Street, where Our Lady of The Angels is currently located.
The present church was first opened in 1968. A house trailer was located adjacent to the church and Kenai’s first resident pastor, Father Daniel Buckley, over saw the administration needs of the parish. In 1969, with the arrival of Father O’Neill, the first parish council was organized and was comprised of parishioners: Leon Quesnel, Leonard Efta, Elsie Seaman, Louise Mika, John McCarthy, Jim O’Conner, and Chester Davis.
In 1974, Father Wells arrived at OLA, fresh from Thailand. While Father Wells was the permanent pastor, there were many changes. One of the biggest changes was the addition of a rectory building adjacent to the church. In 1980, Father Wells and a group of parishioners served as a medical relief team in Thailand.
In 1979, Sister Joyce Ross of the Sisters of Mercy and Sister Joan Barina of the Medical Mission Sisters were assigned to the Kenai Peninsula to act as catechists and adult religion instructors. In 1984, Sister Joan in conjunction with Father Strauss, and several local Protestant Ministers organized what is now the Clothes Quarters.
In 1988, Father Wells was reassigned to the Seward Parish leaving the Kenai Parish without a priest. As a result, Sister Joyce was appointed Parish Administrator and Sister Joan as Assistant Administrator of Our Lady of the Angels. The sisters were empowered to officiate at baptisms, marriages, funerals, and to conduct Eucharistic services in the absence of a priest. This was augmented with traveling priests dubbed, “Circuit Riders.”
Fundraisers helped pay for new additions such as, the arctic entry, the handicapped elevator, memorial gardens, and youth mission trips. The parishioners at Our Lady of the Angels have always shown strong dedication to stewardship. This pledge of stewardship has allowed the parish, though small in numbers, to meet and exceed our goals consistently. An example of this was the burning of the mortgage in June of 1989.
In 2002, a new chapter was added to the history of Our Lady of the Angels, when the parish was able to take reclaim the original log church from the Salvation Army. A committee was formed and on April 12, 2002, the church was moved and renovation began to return the log church to as close to its original condition as possible. In the spring of 2004, renovation was completed and it is now being used for religious education classes, parish activities, and as a meeting place for parish committees, Pastoral Council, and Parish Council.
2007 marked the arrival of three Oblates of Mary Immaculate priests to the Kenai Peninsula to serve as canonical pastors for the Soldotna, Kenai, Ninilchik, and Homer parishes. Fathers Tony Drummer, Andrew Sensenig, and Joe Dowling were joined by Brother Craig Bonham.
In 2009, one of OLA’s own parishioners, Rick Ernst, was ordained a Deacon at the Cathedral in Anchorage. Deacon Ernst was assigned to serve Our Lady of the Angels parish. Shortly afterward Dean Ernst was ordained, Sisters Joyce and Joan announced their retirement and plan to move to the East Coast. When the sisters departed OLA, a strong need for an organizer was realized, and Margaret Menting left her position as the Director of Religious Education and became the Pastoral Life Coordinator for OLA.
In 2010, Fr. Tony Drummer left the parish, and the OMI community sent Fr. Roger in his place. Later that same year Fr. Charles Beausoliel arrived to complete the pastoral team.
Though the twenty-first century will undoubtedly bring unforeseen challenges, the parishioners of OLA are not strangers to adversity and overcoming the seemingly unachievable. Through unwavering stewardship, dedication to our Lord, and a willingness to work hard, Our Lady of the Angels will continue to grow in community, spirituality, and fellowship. We pray that our parish will continue to prosper in the years to come.
Our Lady of the Angels
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