Serving the people of Western Alaska, by definition, takes one to incredible places — both literally and figuratively.
This late winter and early spring, that’s been true in more ways than one for KNOM board president and local parish priest Father Ross Tozzi. Father Ross is recently returned from an extraordinary, unexpectedly lengthy stay in one of our region’s most singular communities, and later this month, he’ll be traveling again — this time, out of Western Alaska, entirely.
As you may have read in our March newsletter, Father Ross was recently waylaid on the remote community of Diomede, Alaska — on an island (Little Diomede) in the middle of the Bering Strait, nearly touching the International Date Line — because of an unexpected interruption in helicopter service to the island. Helicopter flights are the only way on or off Diomede for much of the year, and between mid-January and late February, these flights simply stopped; as KNOM news reported, there was “no way on or off.”
Ultimately, for Father Ross, what was planned to be a trip of less than a week was extended to 39 days. While being “stuck” for such a length of time would be a challenge for anyone, Father Ross frames his visit in a positive light: as an opportunity for spirituality, ministry, and service. In his words:
So what is it like being stuck on the rock? My answer is simple: It was a joy, an honor, and a privilege to be among the Diomeders in my mini Lenten retreat. Perhaps the psalmist says it best: ‘Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.’ (Ps. 95:1)
When Father Ross was finally able to depart the island at the very end of February, the farewell was emotional for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that he’ll soon be departing our region.
It was recently announced that, after a nine-month sabbatical beginning April 19th, Father Ross will be reassigned to Fairbanks to continue his ministry in a new position: as the rector of Fairbanks’ Sacred Heart Cathedral. It’s for this reason that he writes:
Holding back tears in my eyes on the 28th of February, I left Little Diomede at the conclusion of my 39-day visit knowing that I would no longer be able to travel to Saint Jude Parish (Diomede’s Catholic church) as its pastor. Now, in less than 35 days, I will leave Nome with tears in my eyes as well.
While we’ll greatly miss Father Ross’ presence in our region after his departure from Nome, we’re excited for the new avenues of ministry he’ll be able to pursue in his new position in Fairbanks next year.
In the meantime, Father Ross leaves with us a simple but meaningful gift from his long stay on Diomede: the crucifix he’s pictured holding in our soon-to-be-completed digital studios (above). The Diomede crucifix will be hung on our new studio walls, a tangible reminder of the incredible communities we serve — and the extraordinary lengths sometimes required to serve them.