Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Alaska missionary’s autobiography recounts ‘A Kindly Providence’
by Father Armand Nigro SJ
(From the Dec. 3, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
When Jesuit Father Louis L. Renner, my classmate, was about to leave northern Alaska, after over 40 years up there, I wrote to him: “My last advice is – write a good autobiography, for the edification of young people for generations to come.” This he did. A Kindly Providence: An Alaskan Missionary’s Story – 1926-2006 was published by Ignatius Press in 2008. Having carefully read Father Renner’s autobiography, I am confident that it will fascinate, inspire and edify people, young and old, for generations to come. If you are looking for a unique gift, this is your book! (You can order it directly from amazon.com for under $20.)
Father Renner takes us through his boyhood years as a son of a large family on a North Dakota farm – a farm impoverished by both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl Era; through teenage years in Tacoma, Wash., where he finished grade and high schools, while peddling newspapers, delivering Western Union telegrams, picking berries, working in a meat-packing plant and on the railroad, serving as a deckhand on tugboats, as a Safeway “Box out!” boy, and as a postal clerk.
He entered the Jesuits in 1944, and we follow him through his years of study and ministry, including four years of doctoral studies at the University of Munich, Germany, and 15 years as a professor of German at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (which he left in 1980 as a Professor of German, Emeritus), and, finally, through his 21 years as editor of The Alaskan Shepherd and as fundraiser for the Missionary Diocese of Fairbanks.
In the year 2002, Father Renner left Alaska for Gonzaga University in Spokane to carry out a new assignment: to write a comprehensive history of the Catholic Church in Alaska. His copiously illustrated, 702-page Alaskana Catholica: A History of the Catholic Church in Alaska; A Reference Work in the Format of an Encyclopedia was published in 2005.
The above outline of Father Renner’s life is fleshed-out richly in A Kindly Providence. One reviewer writes that “all is there, a clear picture of his life. Renner is a very good writer- technically competent and very interesting. He kept this reader’s interest throughout the 500-plus page book. I really wanted to see how it ended.” Another writes: “Once I started to read it, I couldn’t put it down. I had to finish it.” Rich in detail, this book is a wonderful testimony to a model life of a happy priest in the twentieth century.
The book is based, not only on Father Renner’s remarkable memory, but also on his personal diaries and correspondence, on official documents, and on accounts written by him of his unusual adventures during over 40 years in Alaska. Substantial quotes from diaries, letters, and official documents give readers a feeling of being actually present at those events in far-off places. The many photographs illustrating the narrative lend an air of immediacy and give us a vicarious experience of the author’s personal life.
A Kindly Providence will be read with fascination by young and old alike. Readers find themselves accompanying him, as he hikes the historic Chilkoot Trail, travels with Eskimos in their skin boats to King Island and Little Diomede Island in Bering Strait, flies countless hours in small planes to various Alaskan “bush” villages, drives the wilderness roads of the North, climbs the highest peak on the Seward Peninsula, rubber-rafts the Copper River, goes on sheep hunts in the high country, fishes commercially for salmon in Bristol Bay.
St. Therese, patroness of the Alaska missions, wrote her Story of a Soul. A Kindly Providence has much soul in it; but, being an Alaskan missionary’s story, it is also a story of high adventure.
(Father Nigro is Professor Emeritus of Gonzaga University; an Alaskan missionary from 1951-53 and 2005-2008; and director of retreats for its priestly missionaries and people.)