Father Charles Jon (Chuck) Peterson, SJ, 82, pastoral minister to Native peoples in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, died December 24, 2020, in San Jose, California, of complications of Covid-19.
Fr. Peterson was born November 26, 1938, in Missoula, Montana, the son of Gustave Peterson and Margaret Leppert Peterson. He attended St. Francis Xavier grade school and Loyola High School there, and after graduation in 1956, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Sheridan, Oregon, to begin studies for the priesthood. From Sheridan, his studies took him to West Baden College, Indiana, a campus of Loyola University Chicago, for a degree in classical languages, and to Regis College in Toronto for theology. A highlight of his Canadian years was his participation with other Jesuit scholastics in a 500-mile canoe trip from Midland, Ontario, to Ottawa, following the path of the early Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brebeuf. He was ordained a priest in Missoula on June 1, 1969.
Fr. Peterson’s ministry was devoted to working with Native peoples. As a scholastic, he taught at Copper Valley School in Glenallen, Alaska (1963-65), and after ordination, he served as co-pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Bethel and director of the Yup’ik Deacon Program, which trained Native elders to minister in the far-flung villages of the area.
He went for spiritual theology training in Mumbai, India (1973-74), and then returned to Alaska, this time to Fairbanks. He was diocesan vocation director (1974-77) and director of a seminary for Native vocations (1977-84), which later became the Center of Spirituality and Theology. Subsequent assignments included administrator of St. Mary’s Catholic School in St. Mary’s, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Nome and, after a year of renewal at Seattle University, superior of the Jesuit community in St. Mary’s and working in the Ministry Training Program. To assist the deacons and lectors in the villages, from 1990 to 1997, he produced and broadcast an inspirational program on Scripture, “The Lord Be With You,” which aired on the Catholic radio station KNOM in Nome. The program continued in the hands of others for many years.
After years of ministry above the Arctic Circle, Fr. Peterson was assigned to serve as the pastor of St. Mary Mission in Omak, Washington, and director of Jesuit work among the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest (1997-2005).
He returned to Alaska in 2005 to the Jesuit community now relocated to Bethel. He served as pastor at Immaculate Conception Church and in the villages of the region. After close to 50 years of ministry in Alaska, Fr. Peterson moved to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California, as resident and infirmary chaplain.
He is survived by a niece, JoAnn Peterson Thun, of Helena, Montana. Funeral Masses at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center are currently not open to the public because of Covid-19 restrictions. To view Fr. Peterson’s livestreamed funeral Mass, click here.