New jewel in shrine crown

Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2001

An elemental place of tall trees, moss, rock and waves, the Shrine of St. Therese offers a refuge from the tumult of daily life.

The latest addition to the Shrine, 23 miles north of downtown Juneau, is Jubilee Log Cabin. An open house and dedication for the cabin are scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, with a dedication by Catholic Bishop Michael Warfel at 11, said shrine director Thomas Fitterer.

Jubilee Cabin is just one aspect of a broad expansion plan the Catholic Diocese of Juneau has for the 46.5-acre shrine site.

Pale fir logs 2 feet across dominate the cabin inside and out. In the gathering area, the ceiling rises to a peak of 22 feet above floor-to-ceiling windows framing a view of Shrine Island, Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Range beyond.

The gathering area includes a window seat for 20, two chandeliers in which iron silhouettes of bears and evergreens parade over sheets of mica, and an enameled catalytic stove backed by rockwork.

"We hope staying in Jubilee Cabin will help people connect with the spirit of the place," Fitterer said. The cabin is available for retreats, wedding receptions and other gatherings.

The Jubilee Cabin gives the shrine a medium-size rental unit, with a minimum cost of $190.

"It's in between the Post Office Cabin, which has six beds, and the Lodge, which has 22," Fitterer said. "Jubilee can sleep 13 in beds and we have extra mattresses for groups that aren't fussy."

The main floor is compliant with federal regulations for handicapped accessibility. Wheelchairs can move up a gravel ramp to the porch, then inside to the single bedroom, bath and kitchen, where the sink and counters are low.

A cabin this size, 32 by 32 feet at the base, with a massive staircase in which half logs serve as steps, doesn't come cheap. The final cost was $250,000, covered by Verna Carrigan, the original owner of Juneau's telephone company, who left the diocese close to $500,000 about 10 years ago. To keep the price tag down, Fitterer looked for bargains.


"We originally thought about using wood from the site, but imported these logs from Prince George, British Columbia. The growth rings are tighter because the growing season there is less moist. And, with the Canadian exchange, it was a good buy," he said.

The basic log structure was built in British Columbia, then re-assembled at the shrine site in about two and a half days, to sit on a slab foundation poured in spring 2000. "Then the work began" to finish the inside, Fitterer said.

"There was a lot of custom learning that went on about logs that need to settle about 6 inches in the next three years," Fitterer said. Contractor Dwight Robidoux put a lot of hours into settling mechanisms, he said. Tony Yorba was architect.

Other changes in the past year include the installation of a $470,000 sewer and water system, which includes a 120,000-gallon water tank expected to serve the needs of the site for the next 50 years.

Up the hill from Jubilee, The Little Flower Cabin is planned, a two-bedroom unit for which Rich Conneen is architect and Rai Behnert is project engineer. Benefactor Vivian Kirkevold donated the cabin in memory of her daughter, Heidi Kirkevold Ausec, who drowned at Barlow Cove.

"It will be 1,300 square feet, an octagon-shape with a cupola, right on a bluff overlooking the ocean - a pretty dramatic shape. It's a very serene, quiet location," Conneen said. Little Flower should debut in August, he said.

Fitterer said the Shrine chapel, "the heart of the site," will also undergo repairs.

A March storm blew down many trees around Jubilee Cabin. Volunteers are needed for work parties, 1-5 p.m., Sunday and April 29, to help saw logs and carry the firewood to the lodge.

Another work project during the coming months is a labyrinth, a prayer trail, which will be built with 3,000 4-inch cobbles from the beach. The stones will be arranged concentrically, beginning at the Columbarium. The labyrinth is unlike a maze in that it has no dead ends.

"Everything has a movement toward the center, without frustrating road blocks," Fitterer said. "It's something that is catching on across the nation. It gives opportunities for improving emotional and spiritual health, opportunities for grieving a loss."

For information about renting Jubilee Cabin or volunteering, call Fitterer at 780-6112.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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