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Two little words - 'The Shrine'

Posted: February 20, 2014 - 1:09am

“The Shrine.” Those two little words hide immense feelings.

To the people of Juneau, the Shrine is a pearl of God’s creation, and for Catholics it is made even more sacred by the presence of the chapel on Shrine Island.

From its inception, the Shrine has drawn people. During the building of the Shrine, a man named George Murphy traveled from New York City twice to clear logs during the Depression. The same force that moved a man in NYC to travel across the continent during the worst economic period in our country’s history is still beating in hearts across Alaska and the world. It’s like a magnet: The Shrine pulls people toward it and the same was true for me.

Bishop Edward Burns hired me last June to be the executive director, and I accepted without ever setting a toe in Alaska. There was something about this place that pulled my heartstrings from 3,000 miles away.

Being executive director of the Shrine allows me to hear amazing stories, beautiful slices from people’s lives. There are few moments — and fewer places — that evoke the trust to share intimate, heartfelt moments with someone you barely know. The Shrine is one of those rare places. It’s almost like being part of a club — if you’ve been to the Shrine, you know.

I get to hear wonderful stories of weddings, memories of loved ones interred at the Columbarium and funny moments from a family trip out the road. The most poignant stories are those of people who have come to the Shrine and simply can’t explain what they felt. You can see it on their faces: For however brief a moment, they felt something. It may have been peace, happiness, not feeling alone, or feeling so small in the midst of something so great. Those are my favorite stories, and that is why the Shrine exists. As a Catholic, I think that the “something” is God. Some might say it’s Beauty or Nature, and others might say it’s the quiet. Regardless of how you define it, it’s precious, and we are so lucky to have the Shrine in our back yard.

What started as an idea in the mind of Bishop Joseph Crimont has blossomed into a Shrine complex with thousands of visitors every year. More visitors means more wear and tear on the facilities, and that requires money. This year the Shrine needs to install two pretreatment tanks and reconfigure its septic system. It isn’t just a matter of serving our visitors — it is a matter of being good stewards and protecting the environment.

The Shrine needs to raise $25,000 for the project, and to meet this goal the Shrine board and Bishop Burns are hosting the Mardi Gras Masquerade Gala at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the Baranof Hotel. Masks and beads will be available. There will be a cajun dinner, silent auction, outcry dessert auction and live music from jazz group Fleet Street. Individual tickets to the event are $100, tables are $1,000 and sponsorship tables are $1,500 (special recognition and preferred seating). We also need items for the silent auction. If you can’t make it to the event, please consider a donation to the Shrine.

For 75 years, the Shrine has been here for the people of Juneau. Please help the Shrine see another 75 years. To buy tickets or donate, please contact Deirdre Darr at the Shrine Business Office: 780-6112 or juneaushrine@live.com.

• Deirdre Darr is executive director for the Shrine of St. Therese.

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