Our Lady of Perpetual Help –early History
By David Carey
The people of God are His Church. The church known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help – Soldotna has been blessed with many faithful and devoted servants since begun by the Redemptorists in the early 1960’s. The Oregon Province of the Redemptorist Order started six missions on the Kenai Peninsula and provided many priests who labored in this far off patch of God’s Vineyard along with many Volunteers and local parishioners. Two of those priests are buried on the parish property today as God’s work continues in the new church today.
Our first priest was the Rev. James Van Hoomissen (Fr.Van) who arrived in 1961, five years after oil was discovered at Swanson River. When Father Van arrived, Mass was celebrated at Wildwood AFB for large groups and in his trailer for small groups. At once meeting the spiritual needs of younger and older Catholics was given highest priority.
Fr. Van’s arrival prompted the arrival of Florence Imlach, a lay volunteer from Anchorage, and St. Theresa’s Camp became a reality for younger Catholics. Florence, her brother Bob and his friend, Sandy Campbell, were among the many who spent countless hours working to create the camp that exists today as a major resource for the parish and Archdiocese.
Father Van headed the effort to build a local Church with long range goals for a school, dormitory and a monastery. A protestant, Marvin Smith, donated a large tract of land to the project and work began to show results. The arrival on June 6, 1962 of Couer d’Alene volunteers Theresa Gannon, a teacher, and students Jim Conrow and John Dimeling along with local resident allowed for the building to a steel structure expected to be our first Church. However, that first structure was destroyed by heavy snowfall on Feb. 28, 1962. Out of that experience came the decision to build a church out of native stone. John Moran, a stone mason from Ireland, led the efforts to obtain granite form Cooper Mountain and many tons of rock contributed to our first Church along with the monastery motif of the fireplace in the rectory.
Florence returned to Anchorage in April of 1962 leaving Theresa, Jim and John as the lay volunteers working with F. Van and the local residents. Soon another volunteer, Bonnie Boehm, arrived and the first groups of children were attending camp. The first group of counselors included Karen Schlax, Carolyn Larson, and Agnes Seales from Seattle and Joe Brosnam from the University of Oregon.
The sacramental life focused around our parish Church at Our Lady of Perpetual Help has always been strong and vibrant because of the many people who have contributed of their time, their love, and their dedication to the Lord and our Blessed Mother.
The lay members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help have included thousands of year-round members but also may summer visitors from Alaska and the entire world. It would be wrong from the perspective of justice to mention some and probably forget others who contributed equally. What does seem appropriate is to mention those first individuals associated with the Sacramental Life of the parish.
The first two recorded Baptisms in the register of Our Lady of Perpetual Help were on October 8, 1961 by Father Van. Jay Robert, Son of Bernard Davis and Sylvia Ranta was received into the Church as witnessed by sponsors Clifton and Anna Erickson. Theresa Angela, daughter of Allen Odom and Joanne Robinson was received into the Church with sponsors Mark O’Brien and Eileen Mullen that same day.
The first recorded Marriage in the register was by Father Dean, between Joseph Srala and Gladys Pellack witnessed by Ivan Pellack and Jennifer Carey. The first recorded Mattiage by Father Van was between Michael Oberts and M. Theresa Gannon on May 26, 1962.
We have been blessed by the service of many ordained priests from all over the world. Many Redemptorists have served as our Parish Priests. After the death of Father Dean in 1991, the Redemptorists found themselves unable to staff the Kenai Peninsula and Archdiocese has committed themselves to our parish by providing us with Father Wrigley then Father Tero, Father Frank Reitter, Father John Holleman and now Father Richard Tero again.
Our parish has received the support of many sisters. Sister Joyce and Sister Joan of Kenai parish must be given special thanks to the many years of hard work and continued support.
The land around Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church is the only approved cemetery inside the city of Soldotna. As a special memorial to those Redemptorists who labored on the Peninsula, the remains of Father Dean and Father Wells are buried there along with a plaque remembering those Redemptorists Priests who have served our Parish: James Van Hoomissen (1961-1965), Robert Woodruff (1961), Thaddeus Dean (1962-1964, 1988-1991), Daniel Buckley (1966-1969), Daniel Debolt (1970-1972, 1978-1980), Edward O’Neill (1972-1978) Richard Strauss (1980-1988)
On Saturday, April 29, 1995, after 33 years of using the stone church as our center of worship, the Blessed Sacrament was moved by procession to the new church built to continue serving the needs of our growing Parish.