By: Dominique Johnson

2016 was a year of change for the Shrine of St. Therese in Juneau —starting with the announcement of the new executive director in February, a National Shrine designation in September, a Shrine sponsored retreat which took place at the beginning of advent, and finishing the year with the first Christmas Eve Mass celebrated at the Shrine.

Joe Sehnert, the Shrine’s executive director, set the plan in motion in the fall. Sehnert said that when he brought the idea of celebrating Christmas Eve Mass at the Shrine to Bishop Edward Burns, the Bishop immediately said “Yes, let’s do it” and said he would be happy to preside.

Sehnert said that the Christmas Eve mass “wouldn’t have been possible without the Shrine Caretakers Jeff and Lisa Volker” who took the time to decorate the Chapel with four Christmas trees and poinsettias on the altar and luminarias to help guide parishioners along the path to the chapel at night.31862413615_37edd32182_o

The Mass celebrated by Bishop Burns began with the ringing of the Chapel bells at 10pm and the singing of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” led by Dorothy Kuterbach and organist Christopher Lujan as Bishop Burns and Deacon Jeff processed in to a full chapel, with over 100 people in attendance, to celebrate the birth of Christ.

During his homily Bishop Burns reminded those in the pews that “as we go through life, as we grow and mature, that Jesus our Lord keeps coming to us and inviting us to be one with him” and “He comes to us at the degree in which we open our hearts to Him,” Bishop Burns concluded saying “Christ’s Birth has changed the World, His Birth has changed our lives, making us aware of His presence, His peace and His Love.”

The Mass came to an end similar to the way it began, with the ringing of the bells and joyful singing as Bishop Burns and Deacon Jeff processed from the altar and the parishioners followed the candle lit pathway to travel back home.

When asked if there would be a Christmas Eve Mass celebrated at the National Shrine of St. Therese next year Joe Sehnert answered “Absolutely, if God sends us a priest to preside.”