Pace of life increasing at McMurdo

A huge C17 Globemaster 111 lands at Pegasus Airfield, near McMurdo Sound, in the Antarctic.
A huge C17 Globemaster 111 lands at Pegasus Airfield, near McMurdo Sound, in the Antarctic.
Queenstown priest Fr Tony Harrison takes in the commanding view looking out over McMurdo Sound to...
Queenstown priest Fr Tony Harrison takes in the commanding view looking out over McMurdo Sound to the Royal Society Mountains.
The Erebus Chalice.
The Erebus Chalice.

Queenstown priest Fr Tony Harrison, who is working as a chaplain at McMurdo Station, Ross Island, the Antarctic, writes exclusively for the Queenstown Times.

The pace of life in McMurdo is increasing. Flights are arriving daily at the moment to help clear the backlog that was created by weather and mechanical faults.

There are about 815 people here, and some have already gone out to field camps. This week there has been a lot of training. Driver training is essential. People are trained to drive the ordinary vans as well as the heavy machinery (tractors, bulldozers, graders) and the ski-doos.

From my office window, I was able to watch the helicopter pilots going through their training. There are four helicopters on station, two twin-engined Iroquois and two Squirrels. The helicopters' main role is to take scientists out to their sites and also for resupply.

As for ourselves in the chapel, we are on the job. Mark Smith and I are meeting and greeting. Part of the task of the chaplain is to just be available to people.

I had the opportunity to go out to Pegasus Airfield to greet the incoming C17 and we were treated to a wonderful display of the "fata morgana". It is a mirage and looks as though you are looking at what might be cliffs. They rise and fall. One we saw looked very much like crystals hanging with the sun shining through.

Chaplaincy works out of the Chapel of the Snows. This is in fact the third chapel at McMurdo. The first chapel was built in 1956 from materials borrowed from other building sites. It was called the Chapel of St Dismus, who was the good thief crucified with Jesus.

The chapel stood in a prominent position at McMurdo and was the only building with a picket fence. It was destroyed in a fire on August 23, 1978, and was replaced by a Quonset hut in 1979.

In 1988, the construction of the present chapel was begun. It was fitted out during the winter and dedicated in January 1989. This chapel has a commanding view looking out over McMurdo Sound to the Royal Society Mountains.

The second chapel was given over for music and band practice. It was burned down in March 1989. Unfortunately, with its destruction some important relics and history of chaplaincy at McMurdo were lost.

There is one relic which is of significance to the Antarctic and that is the Erebus Chalice. This chalice is named after HMS Erebus whose 1841 expedition reached what is now known as the Ross Sea, and was led by Sir James Clark Ross. On board was Lieutenant (later Admiral) Edward Joseph Bird.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Captain Scott's ill-fated 1911-12 expedition to the South Pole, Ms Betty Bird, of Auckland, a descendant of Admiral Bird, had the chalice engraved and dedicated for use at the Chapel of the Snows. The chalice was first used here on Christmas Day 1987.

The chalice is displayed here during the austral summer, and then returned to Christchurch Cathedral for the austral winter. At the beginning of each summer season, the chalice is presented in a special ceremony and then brought to McMurdo. It is one of the most treasured items on the station and among the oldest relics on the continent.

Opposite the chalice is the Prayer of Consecration of Antarctica, written by Fr William Menster who served as chaplain during the 1946-47 American expedition to the Antarctic, Operation Highjump. It is a prayer remembering those who work here and prays for the future of this continent.

As part of Operation Deep Freeze, US Navy chaplains came to McMurdo in 1955. Since 2000, chaplains have come from various units of the Air National Guard. In 1956, the United States began a relationship with the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch to supply priests for service in Antarctica.

We are celebrating more than 50 years of team ministry together! Every summer, priests from throughout New Zealand accompany military chaplains to the ice.

 

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