From- PIONEER MISSIONARY To the Bering Strait Eskimos:
BELLARMINE LAFORTUNE, S.J.
By- Louis L. Renner, S.J. In collaboration with Dorothy Jean Ray
[You know, but a few may not know, that the above "S.J." means that both the author and the subject of the book, are members of the "Society of Jesuits"]
ISBN- 0-8323-0343-7 First Edition- 1979
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number - 79-53362
Published by Binford & Mort 2536 S.E. Eleventh Portland, OR 97202
For the ALASKA HISTORICAL COMMISSION
From pages 32-33 begin quote-
32 Pioneer Missionary to the Bering Strait Eskimos:
............ fishing camp because we are obliged to stay here for the strangers who flock here every year. " Lafortune's attitude toward helping the Eskimos was opposite to the one which he thought the schools were espousing - that is, he wanted to isolate them from what he considered to be degenerate whites and a deterioration of their environment.
Throughout his long missionary career he clung to his original plans of establishing "centers," and "organizing the natives" into self-enclosed, self-sufficient social, economic, and religious communities. He was opposed to "civilizing" or "domesticating" them, as he thought the schools were doing.
Father Bernard was chosen to be the priest at Marys Igloo. He arrived in September 1908, and remained until 1915, with only a year taken out, from July 1909 to 1910, which he spent in Europe receiving his final year of Jesuit training. Lafortune then included this village, which had fifty-one Catholics by then, in his rounds.7 Bernard had been at Marys Igloo for eight years when he left Alaska rather suddenly, on 16 June 1915, to answer the call of the tricolore of his native France.8
During his years at Marys Igloo he had learned the Eskimo language; had taken a large number of photographs; and had acquired an admiration for all things Eskimo and Alaskan, which had not diminished by the end of the war. He wanted to return to Alaska, but was not permitted to do so, despite his many impassioned pleas. The refusal was probably because of the casual way he had handled funds, as well as the fact that he had not obtained permission to leave Marys Igloo from John B. Sifton, S. J., the General Superior of the Alaska mission, who, as a former German citizen [by name of John B. Sifferlen], may have resented Bernard's abrupt departure to fight against his former homeland. For almost forty years, Bernard, living somewhat in the past, wrote articles about the Eskimos for French missionary magazines and sent devotional literature to the Eskimos of the Igloo-Teller area.9
Shortly after Bernard's departure for France, a rumor was spread in the Marys Igloo area by the white schoolteacher, Edwin Hunnicutt, to the effect that Bernard had been chased out of the country by his Jesuit Superiors because of some ''Misconduct.''10 According to Lafortune, the rumor "spread like wild fire; and, among the whites as well as among the Eskimos, among Catholics as well as among protestants, the rumor gained in maliciousness and falsity in direct proportion as it spread."
Lafortune, who had left Nome, on 21 September 1915, to replace Bernard at Marys Igloo, found the situation "very painful," especially when a Protestant Eskimo, John Otok [Octuck], "who pretended to be a missionary," did everything in his power to prevent the people from attending Catholic services.
According to Lafortune, in order to prepare himself for his anti-Catholic crusade, the Eskimo minister had read "about twenty evil books" sent to him by a Nome missionary until "the poison of hatred against the Church penetrated to the very depths of his soul."11
Lafortune's missionary work at Marys Igloo became easier within a few months when the Eskimo minister, his wife, and baby drowned in two feet of water on New Year's day, 1916. Protestant Eskimos started to attend Lafortune's services, and more than a dozen were admitted into the Catholic Church.
At Marys Igloo, Lafortune was stationed alone for the first time since his arrival in Alaska. He had almost more duties than he could handle: the ministry, housekeeping, woodcutting, water carrying, and dog keeping. "If the good Lord had not given me a constitution of steel," he wrote, "I could not hold out for two weeks."12
During the year he remained at Marys-Igloo he continued to make his dogteam trips to see his converts scattered over the vast Seward Peninsula all the way from Cape Prince of Wales to Council, saying mass, giving instructions, and filling baptismal, marriage, and burial registers.
How wonderful for Alaskan Roman Catholicism that this Eskimo man,
his wife and child would ACCIDENTLY drown in two foot of water.