Here’s how this week’s arts and culture column begins:

Magadan is part of Siberia, in far East Russia, and the capital of Kolyma, one of the most brutal sites in the Gulag.

The Gulag (1929-1953) were a series of forced labor camps established first under Lenin, then Stalin, as a way to implement the rapid industrialization of such resources as coal and timber. As well they became a place to warehouse political dissenters—anyone who believed in God was suspect—common criminals, the educated, and finally common people who were driven to exhaustion, starved, beaten and thrown on the trash heap. Many died of disease; others froze; still others were executed.

Fr. Michael Shields, born and bred in the Anchorage Archdiocese of Alaska, has been Pastor of the Nativity of Jesus in Magadan since 1994.

Having come back to the U.S. a few years—briefly, he thought—for a knee replacement, the Russian government suddenly informed him that he couldn’t return until December, 2022.  So he’s been serving his old parish in Palmer, Alaska, a rural farming community, and overseeing the Mission from afar.



  1. Teresa Kleber says: Reply

    Thank you for the great article about Magadan. That kind of forgiveness would be impossible without Jesus. I want to read the book.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh it is simply unbelievable what they endured, Teresa. One of them, not mentioned in the book, is Servant of God Adele Dirsyte who is especially dear to my heart. Literally martyred, for having been caught taking the Eucharist in the camp…I think of the petty resentments I hold in my own heart–and I’m ashamed…

  2. Sidney Blanchet says: Reply

    What a beautiful face Father has! A remarkable story. Thank you, Heather.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Sidney, we really do get the face we “deserve,” it seems. We had a wonderful phone conversation and my only regret was that the word max for the column meant I had to leave so much out…

  3. Hello Heather
    Father Michael is a good friend. We had him for supper during his last visit to Madonna House before his return to Magadan. On his way back he had been notify that he could renew his visa. I remember when he was entrusted to take the relic of St-Therese across Russia when she was doing her world tour.
    Madonna House was instrumental and played a key role in the events that unfolded in the building of the first RC church. They also were close friends to all of the women (especially) who survive the gulag, their appartement was the gathering place for many years to come. I cherish our memories of his many visits to our home. I am eternally grateful to have journey with the lady’s who landed in Magadan.
    I remember many years ago when food was scare in the city,Mariam went to the grocery store to buy some carrots but there was no veggies to be bought, so she bought a light bulb instead. Their all way light bulb would disappeared on a regular basis. Every one was poor and everyone was in need. So much more to tell but one story worth looking into was the dedication of the shrine to all of the Martyrs it was erected on the hill side just outside the city.
    The event took place with both Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic presence.
    Alma always said that the city was build on top of the bones of all who was send to-the gulag but he millions.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Just beautiful, Monique–thank you so much for these memories and insights–