SITKA — Father James Blaney, who served in Catholic churches around southeast Alaska for more than 25 years, has died. He was 76.
Father Peter Gorges said Wednesday that Blaney died of cancer on Dec. 4 in Sitka.
Blaney served as pastor of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Sitka since 2011 and previously was assigned to parishes and missions across the region.
His service included 12 years as pastor of St. John’s-by-the-Sea Parish in Klawock, as well as time in Haines, Skagway, Hoonah, Petersburg and Wrangell, KCAW reported.
Friends and family described Blaney as an outdoorsman who loved Alaska and as a man who would talk to anyone.
“When he came to Alaska, he said, ‘You know, I’ve come to heaven without having to die first’,” said his younger sister, Mary Johnson, of Port Orchard, Wash. “He just loved it here. Always wanted to be in Alaska.”
Gorges said Blaney was “always good company. He would talk to anything that moved.”
Father Pat Casey of Juneau said one of Blaney’s unique attributes was his ability “to reach and talk to the most marginalized people.”
Gorges said Blaney made a point of joining volunteer fire departments in communities where he served. Blaney also was part of the Coast Guard auxiliary in Sitka, and he started a Saturday lunch for homeless residents in the church basement when a food pantry became overwhelmed by the need.
A procession to the funeral Mass was held Tuesday and was “quite grand,” Gorges said.
Burial was scheduled at the home of Blaney’s order in Massachusetts.