Group from St. James spends two weeks in Alaska

By on September 12, 2018

Father James O’Blaney holding a husky puppy while on an excursion in Icy Strait, Alaska. (Photo by Tom McEvoy)

A group from St. James Catholic Church traveled to Alaska from Aug. 7 to 19. The basis for the trip was Father O’Blaney’s 60th jubilee of his ordination.

On the trip from St. James were Father James O’Blaney, Mary Read Richard Bernhardt, Joan Hresko, father and son David and Alexander Chavez, Kathleen and Doug DeAngelis Joan and Rob Sterr Nancy and David Morgan Joan and Tom McEvoy Lucy and Joseph Norton Trish and Jerry Link; and non-parishioners Bobbi Lessner and Stacy Bradley.

Not only did Bradley go along, but she also planned the trip. She works at Lititz AAA. While in Anchorage, Bradley participated in the 2018 Anchorage RunFest, where she finished 17th of 35 in her age group (40-44).


Humpback whales bubble-netting off Pleasant Island, north-northwest of Icy Strait, Alaska. (Photo by Gerard J. Link)


While in Anchorage, Stacy Bradley participated in the 2018 Anchorage RunFest, where she finished 17th of 35 in her age group (40-44). (Photo by Gerard J. Link)

The trip included a cruise, an overland portion, and a plethora of side excursions.

Parishioner Jerry Link explained that Father O’Blaney really wanted to see Alaska.

“As an 85-year old man, I suspect he may have had concerns about his ability to handle the physical needs of the selected excursions,” Link said, “but he did well.”

Father O’Blaney’s favorite part of the trip is when he held an Alaskan husky puppy that was less than three weeks old. The dog’s eyes had just recently opened.

O’Blaney wasn’t the only octogenarian on the trip. Also turning 85 this year were fellow travelers Dick Bernhardt and Joe Norton.

Link confessed that during the time they spend together, he learned that Norton had once had a 12-second cameo as a Secret Service Agent in the 1962 movie “Advise and Consent.”

“Trish (my wife) and I normally attend the Saturday evening Mass at St James, whereas other members of the trip attend other Masses on Sunday,” said Link. “ We knew some of our fellow parishioner cruise-mates by sight, but we didn’t know them well. The cruise was beneficial since we got to learn more about some of our fellow parishioners.”

This was the view for those on the stern of the Island Princess’s wake near Catherine Island, Alaska. (Photo by Trish Link)


This photos is of Haines River, Alaska, while the group was on an excursion jet boat. (Photo by Trish Link)


Glacier Bay, Alaska. (Photo by Trish Link)


The travelers learned a lot during their stay in the 49th state. For instance:

”There are 750,000 moose in Alaska, and 749,000 people,” reported Link. “Most of the population of Alaska is in Anchorage. One motor coach driver, when taking us through Wasilla, Alaska, home of Sarah Palin, pointed out a bar named the Mugshot Bar. He said that everyone entering is asked the same question: Do you have a gun on your person? If the answer is no, then they give you a gun.

This magpie was in a tree in Denali National Park, taken on a 133-mile bus round trip, near Polychrome Mountain viewpoint. (Photo by Gerard J. Link)


This photo was taken at “Mushers Camp” during an excursion at Icy Strait, Alaska, port call. Shown (left to right) are Dave Morgan, Nancy Morgan, Rob Sterr, Mary Read, Joan Sterr, Tom McEvoy, Father James O’Blaney, and Bobbi Lessner. (Photo by Joan McEvoy)

“My wife enjoyed the stories from the women motor coach drivers who explained how you shop, fish, hunt, grow gardens to survive the winters. Moose meat cannot by sold or bought, by law, in Alaska. Natives can enter their name on a list to take advantage of moose road-kill (moose can weigh up to 1400 pounds,” explained Link. “When a moose is killed on a road, the Alaska State Police call the next person on the list. The called person has two-and-a-half hours to claim the moose. Normally the Alaska natives butcher the moose by the road and take the usable meet away.”

A high point of the trip for Link took place during a humpback whale watching excursion in Icy Strait. He captured a photo of a group of 11 humpbacks using a fishing tactic called bubble netting.

“The whales collaborate in surrounding a rapid moving school of fish with bubbles they exhale as they surround a school of fish,” said Link. “The fish are reluctant to swim through air bubbles hence they become penned in. The matriarch trumpets a sound (the excursion boat had a hydrophone dropped into the water) and all the whales ascend vertically through the trapped school of fish with mouths open. The whales lower jaws expand like a pelicans bill collecting sea water and the fish. The whales then expel the water through their baleen while holding the fish. The fish are then swallowed by the humpback whales.”

A naturalist told like that the photos he captured of the bubble netting are considered the “Holy Grail” of humpback whale watching, as the whales normally travel solo.

“The beauty of Alaska is cathedral-like,” said Jerry Link. “You feel as if you are in a church of breathtaking loveliness.” (Photo by Gerard J. Link)


This was the view from the deck of a restaurant at the Princess Wilderness Lodge in Denali National Park. (Photo by Gerard J. Link)

Father O’Blaney held Mass each day on the ship and at the Princess Wilderness Hotel in Denali National Park and the Princess McKinley Hotel. But members of the entourage could feel God working all around them in the wilderness.

“The beauty of Alaska is cathedral-like,” concluded Link. “You feel as if you are in a church of breathtaking loveliness.”

Melissa Hunnefield is the features editor of the Lititz Record-Express. She welcomes your comments at

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