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Remembering Fr. Chuck Peterson, S.J.

With deep sadness, we announce the passing of Fr. Chuck Peterson, S.J., long-time pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Bethel, Alaska, and dear friend of JVC Northwest. He was among the dozens of people infected with COVID-19 in the retirement community for Jesuits in Los Gatos, California. Chuck passed away early on Thursday, December 24, 2020 at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose.

Chuck was first assigned to ministry in Alaska as a Jesuit in formation in the early 1960s, serving first at Copper Valley School before being assigned to pastoral ministry in Bethel. There, he immediately fell in love with the people and the place, and over the next several decades (with a short break to serve in the Rocky Mountain Mission in the ’90s) he worked tirelessly to build local, Indigenous leadership in the Church in Alaska. He made the then-controversial decision to celebrate mass in Yup’ik, and was instrumental in the ordination of the first Alaska Natives deacons. 

He was a beloved friend and mentor to generations of JVs who remember his sense of humor, quick wit, and great laugh, as well as his empathetic and compassionate listening.   

A private funeral Mass will be held for Sacred Heart Jesuit Community members only once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Please continue to pray for all those who mourn Chuck, and for the Sacred Heart Jesuit Community who remain on lock-down in an effort to stop the further spread of this virus.

We also invite you to share your memories of Chuck by leaving a comment on at the bottom of this page. We will share your remembrances with his family and the Jesuit community.

Christmas in Copper Valley, Alaska, 1963. Chuck Peterson, S.J., sits to the far right.

20 thoughts on “Remembering Fr. Chuck Peterson, S.J.”

  1. Chuck was an integral part of my JVC year in Fairbanks (’86-’87). He inspired joy – first evidenced to me when he enthusiastically played the role of Dorothy in our ‘Wizard of Oz’ spoof for the orientation talent show. Thanks for all the smiles Chuck!!

  2. I was very sad to see that Chuck Peterson has died. When I was at St. Marys High School in Alaska in the late 1970s, Chuck often blew in to visit, and I mean blew in. You could hear that wonderful voice thundering down the hall, and having him there for a few days and joining us at meals with just a joy. He came to give retreats to we Jesuit Volunteers, as well, and we loved his presence, his down-to-earth spirituality, his laugh, his spirit, his presence. I am so glad that I got to be in his presence, and to see him a few times at JVC events over the years since. May his memory be eternal.

  3. I first met Fr. Chuck Peterson in the late 1970s on a snowy night. He knocked on the door of the Rebmann House at Gonzaga and announced that “Charlie Rent a Priest” was here to say Mass. What followed was a special liturgy that I still remember to this day.

  4. Fr. Chuck will be sorely missed. He was a big part of mine and my families life. I first remember meeting Chuck at JVC Orientation in 1981 before I headed off to Nome and KNOM. Later Chuck would come to work in Nome and I remember many nights around the kitchen table discussing everything. Later Fr. Chuck would marry my wife Karen and I and then become the godfather for our youngest child (who is now 28 years old). Fr. Chuck was blessed with God’s grace and he was more than willing to share that with everyone. He will be sorely missed, but he’s not really gone because he’s let a piece of that love with each of us.

    • Hey, Peter! This is M.C. Yanikoski (aka Mary C. Schmidt) and thanking you for your tribute to Fr Chuck Peterson. He was not part of my JVC experience but I knew the name. Fr Paul Mache’s sister Jane’s 7th anniversary of her death was today, so I emailed Paul to let him know I remembered. He replied and added the COVID death of Fr Chuck. It is so very very sad since these Jesuit priests were a magnificent gift to Northern Alaska.

      I remember you, also, with fondness. I have my own Peter (son now 31 years old) who you remind me a lot of when I recall us all being so much younger in 1981! Those of us, like Fr Chuck Peterson, who have JVC experiences that span these decades with deep reverberation. I still consider that era (for me 1980-1984 in Nome, then 1985-1989 in Fairbanks) as a pivotal point in my life. It changed the trajecory of my life and still influences how I build community, live with simplicity,
      faith & hospitality.

  5. In remembrance of father Chuck, we’re thankful that he was part of our family and a dear friend in our Bethel community, and he brought a lot of joy to our lives.

  6. Working alongside and being in community with Fr. Chuck was one of the highlights of my JV year in Omak, WA (’02-’03). One couldn’t help but be immediately struck by his height and outgoing personality, but he possessed a truly gentle soul. Anytime you spoke with him, you had his undivided attention and he radiated joy. His commitment to serving the Colville Reservation community, as well as the Native communities in Alaska, defined who he was. I will always remember him driving around town in his bright red VW Beetle, singing irreverent songs about ghost chickens, and being the best Santa Claus south of the North Pole. He will be greatly missed and forever loved.

  7. JVC friend and supporter, Victor Charlo sends his condolences to family and friends of Chuck….As Vic said, “We had some really good times….Great memories…back as far as MIssoula….etc….Rest in peace, Chuck….”

  8. I am saddened to hear of Fr Chuck’s passing. I knew Fr Chuck for a few years as a Jesuit Volunteer School Nurse at St Mary’s 1985-86 and then as Alaska Area Director 1986-88 when St. Mary’s High School closed. Fr Chuck always carried a hearty, enthusiastic smile. His jokes lightened up often difficult moments of students’ lives. Indeed he was passionate in serving the local people, our students and the Jesuit Volunteers. He honoured their Journeys and seemed to know just what to say to provide comfort and support. I have many memories after a long day working with students visiting his office to solve a query about life living on the tundra during difficult times – receiving inspiration, learning and support as well as jokes to laugh off the stress. He was also a great storyteller! Endless hilarious and colourful stories of life at Copper Valley along with living on the tundra, as well as with his philosophical anecdotes wove the yarn of life during those long winters.. His shining spirit is not extinguished!

  9. We saddened to hear about Chuck’s passing. He married us at the Mission Santa Clara and was at the Yellow Banana in Fairbanks when we became engaged. He was supportive, loving and always helpful. He would visit us in Seattle and dive into any project we had going on… and with 4 boys he loved the activity! He will be missed… large shoes to fill!
    Love and prayers,
    Pat Morton and Kathy Colombo

  10. Father Chuck was an amazing priest who had a laugh and smile that filled a room. When I first left home for a year of social justice work in Omak, Washington, on a reservation, his presence in our community was such a blessing. I have such fond memories of him and in awe of his work with native people. I made him elk meat once and he said it was the best he ever had. What an amazing spirit he had and I’m lucky to have known him. He looked and reminded me of Santa and passed on Christmas Eve. Rest In Peace.

  11. During the summer of 1979 my parents, sister and nephew traveled to AK to visit. They drove from PA and had the trip of a life time. When it was time for their return trip they scheduled a 6 a.m. departure. At 5 a.m. there was a knock on the door. In walked Fr. Chuck and Bishop Whelan. They came to say mass. My parents could not believe it. What a blessed and spectacular send off. We enjoyed breakfast, laughed and cried. I never forgot the look on my mother’s face when they said they wanted to say mass. Thank you, Chuck Peterson, give Bishop Whelan a hug from all of us. I am sure he is still telling the story of The Big Mouth Frog.
    Fran (O’Donnell)Stredny
    1975-1977 1978-1979

  12. I don’t know how many couples Fr. Chuck married, but Susie (Patridge, St. Mary’s 1980-82) and Dan Misleh (Fairbanks, 1982-83) were two of them. Dan worked for Fr. Chuck for two years (as a volunteer and as a paid staff) when the Center for Theology and Spirituality was the program Fr. Chuck, Fr. Dick Case, S.J. and Sr. Pauline Igoe, O.P., were shepherding. It was a privileged time getting to know Fr. Chuck and his passion for developing Native Alaskan ministries as we traveled together throughout the interior.

    When Susie and I became engaged, there was no doubt that we wanted Chuck to officiate our wedding. He did so with delight and gusto…just as he did everything…and it was a wonderful day.

    Though we didn’t stay in touch very much over the years, he did reach out after we lost our youngest son to suicide three and a half years ago and his compassion came through. The ultimate pastor, he touched all who knew him and loved him. He will be missed by many including the Native communities in Alaska, his fellow Jesuits, and all who sat at his feet listening to his wonderful stories, absorbing his counsel, and sharing a good hearty laugh. His memory will be a blessing to many! Well done, good and faithful servant. Pray for us, Fr. Chuck.

  13. I’ll always remember Fr. Chuck from my time as a JV in Omak (03-04). The image of him rolling through the reservation in his red hot VW bug will forever be seared in my memory 🙂 Such a great man with a great sense of joy and an infectious sense of humor. He encouraged me to try my first (and only) taste of whale oil. He will be missed!

  14. I feel blessed to have spent time with Father Chuck during my JV year in Bethel (’07-08). Father Chuck radiated God’s love everywhere he went and exuded a joyful and open heart. After spending time with Father Chuck, one could not help but smile and feel more energized to continue the journey ahead.

    One fond memory I have of Father Chuck is when he showed us the pyx we would use to bring the Eucharist to the home bound. He opened up the pyx and was surprised to see that the Eucharist was still inside. “Jesus!” he exclaimed, as though he was seeing a dear old friend. It made us all smile. Father Chuck was a dear friend and faithful servant of Jesus. Thank you for loving the world Father Chuck. May you rest in peace.

  15. So very sorry to learn of Fr. Chuck’s passing. I met him as a JV in Nome and helped him to create the series of lessons he broadcast to the men – often Alaska Native – in formation for the permanent diaconate. Imagine my surprise 20 years later when I heard his unmistakable voice welcoming the congregation to worship at the little Omak parish on the reservation. He was much loved by both communities – and others, besides. God grant him eternal rest.

  16. I first met Chuck as a 1988-89 JV in Nome.

    I remember clearly one day when ge came into the Community House while I was making a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. He says, “Can you show me how to make that?” I says, “Show you how to make a grilled cheese?” He says, “Yeah, show me how to make a grilled cheese.” So, we made grillled cheeses and ate lunch.

    Chuck warmed a room with that laugh and smile, and he warmed all of the hearts in that room with the love of humanity that lived behind that smile.

    Through example, Chuck taught how to care, how to smile through frustration, and how to focus on the important. He taught me the importance of listening … and how empowering being listened to feels.

    And I taught him how to make a grilled cheese.

    I definitely got the better end of that deal!

  17. I first met Fr. Chuck Peterson in 2001-2002. He was instrumental in helping me though some rough times. His compassion, understanding, and sense of humor are sorely missed. I’ll always remember doing yard work with him at St. Joseph and at the residence. I miss seeing him ride his red VW bug through Omak, and his laughter when attending mass. He was a great guy, and the world is a little less without him. R.I.P. Fr. Chuck!


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