Saturday morning I was up early to grab a cup of coffee, say some prayers, and make it to the airport for a 7:00 am flight to Valdez. The weather forecast for the weekend was not promising – but in reality, Saturday was absolutely beautiful! And so was the visit with the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier in Valdez.
I had the opportunity to have a personal visit with the pastor, Fr. Eric Wiseman, as well as with their deacon, Dan Stowe. The Parish Administrator, Michael Franklin and his wife, Christy coordinated a good part of the weekend helping me and our Stewardship & Development Director, Laurie Evans-Dineen find our way around and providing some great hospitality. The parish is well served by all of these individuals!
After a brief tour of the Valdez area, we met with the parish pastoral council and finance council members. These are dedicated people who make up the backbone of most parishes – and that is surely the case at St. Francis Xavier. I am always amazed that no matter what size community of parish, God always finds a way to place the people necessary to maintain and sustain the vital ministries of a parish. Even beside the Human Resources, The Good Lord also generally helps us find the necessary financial resources also.
This weekend we also kicked off our Archdiocesan Annual Appeal – One Bread One Body. Laurie did a really nice job with her brief presentation at the end of each of the Masses.
The focal point of Sunday morning’s Mass was the celebration of Confirmation; two young people and one adult. It was a pleasure to visit with them before Mass, and get to meet their families. I found the parish community very warm and hospitable – and did they know how to provide the food!
Most of you probably recall the Valdez oil spill in the Prince William Sound area several years ago. This is the very same place, and the town is surrounded by water and mountains. Most of the snow at the lower levels is now melted, but the mountains are still heavy with snow, and it was snowing at the higher elevations again on Sunday. With the threat of bad weather moving in, Laurie and I gladly accepted an offer to ride along with Mike Franklin who was driving back to Anchorage Sunday afternoon, rather than risking a no-fly situation Sunday evening.
Hands down, the largest employer in this community is Alyeska. The Valdez Marine Terminal marks the end of the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System. Located in the northeast corner of Prince William Sound, the Terminal lies on more than 1,000 acres of land. The facility was designed for loading crude oil onto tankers and holding crude oil so that North Slope production can continue without impact from the marine transportation system. There are 14 storage tanks in service, facilities to measure the incoming oil, two functional loading berths, and a power plant.
Valdez is also home to the US Coast Guard fleet which handle most of the ship inspections as well as search and rescue operations. I hope to return to Valdez in July as Mike Franklin takes over as the new Commander. Valdez also is home to a modest commercial fishing fleet.
The drive home on Sunday was a blessing in that it gave me a chance to see more of this vast and beautiful place known as the great land. The highlight of the trip was driving past Sheep Mountain, where we spotted at least 30 Dahl Sheep. Of course, at the distance we were spotting them, without benefit of binoculars, some of them could have been Mountain Goats.
It was a wonderful weekend, and I’m grateful to all the good people in Valdez. As I often like to say: “Keep living the faith!”