Catholic Chaplaincy to finish for the Antarctic

24 July 2015

The National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Programme, has announced that a steady decline in church-going at U.S. Antarctic stations means the Programme can no longer support the services of Catholic Priests through New Zealand’s Catholic Diocese of Christchurch’s Antarctic Chaplaincy Programme.

The Diocese has been informed that McMurdo Station will continue to have the services of a Military Chaplaincy who will provide interdenominational religious services and personal support to the population.

NSF has worked with Fr Dan Doyle, Antarctic Chaplaincy co-ordinator on the transition that will bring an end to a 57-year relationship between the Diocese and the Programme.

Recent years have seen a steady decline, both in attendance at the Chapel of the Snows at McMurdo Station and in the numbers of residents availing themselves of services of the Chaplains, who are based there from October until February each summer season.  For 57 years a Protestant Chaplain from the U.S. Military and a Catholic Priest provided by the Diocese of Christchurch have offered religious services, personal counselling and individual support for as many as 2000 men and women stationed at McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott Stations and Scott Base at any one time. The Chaplains have been aware for some time of the declining religiosity of the Antarctic population, and have had made considerable efforts to provide relevant and timely religious opportunities to the population.

The Diocese has been proud to be able to support this mission to the “ends of the earth”, and is grateful for the services of many Priests who have had the privilege to serve the men and women of Antarctica. The Catholic Priests who served in Antarctica have enjoyed the working relationship with the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Antarctic Programme, and the U.S. Military. Many blessings have been received and shared, and the Catholic Church has been much enriched by the opportunities that this mission has offered.

Photo: Father K Purcell and Chaplain P Drury