Seventy-five years ago on Oct. 30, 1938, Bishop Joseph Crimont, S.J., laid the cornerstone for the chapel of the Shrine of St. Therese. Looking at the old photograph of my predecessor blessing the cornerstone, I cannot help but notice the prominence of the Jesuit motto “AMDG,” which means in Latin: “To the Greater Glory of God.” That motto reminds me of the famous words of the Church father St. Irenaeus who wrote, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive,” and how, since 1938, the Shrine has been a place in our community where God has been glorified in so many divine and human activities.
God has been glorified in the majestic beauty and solitude of the Shrine’s location on Lynn Canal. Glorified in the generations of men and women and families who have found it to be a place of prayer, reflection and fellowship. Glorified in the life and example of St. Therese of Lisieux and her “Little Way.” Glorified in the silence and prayer of those on retreat. Glorified in those who have worshiped or who have been married in the chapel and in all those who have laid family members and friends to rest in the columbarium. Glorified in all those people who have come together for three quarters of a century to maintain and to improve the Shrine.
What has edified me as I have come to know the Shrine, in its history and its many devoted friends and benefactors, is the way in which it has been the source of so much generosity and goodwill. What seems inevitable in retrospect was highly improbable at the beginning. The idea of the Shrine in the wilderness of the territory of Alaska dedicated to a saint only a decade after her canonization was improbable at best. Yet this dream of Bishop Crimont and Friar William Levasseur became a reality because of the hard work, dedication and self-sacrifice of so many men, women, boys and girls in Juneau.
Consider the Shrine chapel. Initially, nothing seemed to go well. High tides and severe winter storms created many difficulties for the construction of the 400-foot causeway connecting the island with the mainland. Construction of the chapel proved difficult as well. The original intention was to build it out of logs, but for two years in a row the logs for the project, which had boomed up and floated down Lynn Canal, were lost to storms. However, there was no shortage of cobble stones on the nearby beaches, and when stonemason D.P. “Doc” Holden providentially arrived in Juneau and expertly constructed the fireplace at the lodge, he was taken on for the construction of the church, the bell tower and the 14 Stations of the
Cross around the chapel.
Fast forward 75 years: The lodge, which was completed in 1935 and is the oldest building at the Shrine, was in trouble and there was serious doubt that it could be saved. Providentially, another builder, John Gitkof and friends, neighbors living in the vicinity of Shrine, stepped in with a plan to save the building. Last summer, working with the Diocese, he and his friends carried out a thorough renovation of the lodge starting with the foundation and ending with two coats of fresh, barn-red paint. Their vision and hard work guarantees that, God willing, the rebuilt, renovated and improved lodge can continue in service for the next 75 years.
I’m grateful for your donations over the past decades that have made it possible to keep the Shrine open, to renovate buildings — especially the chapel and the lodge — and to do new construction. Thank you for your generosity! I hope our community will continue to support the Shrine financially in the future.
I’m grateful too for the tireless work of our past and present Shrine volunteers, caretakers, board members and executive directors. Our new Shrine Director, Deidre Darr, who came on in July, succeeds our emeritus director, Thomas Fitterer, who served for over 25 years in that position. As an experienced retreat leader and youth minister, Deidre brings a vision and a passion for prayer and retreat work to her new position.
Above all, I am grateful that this sacred place continues to endure for future generations “To the Greater Glory of God.”
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.