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Catholic Church leaves Antarctica

The Chapel of the Snows at McMurdo Station (Alan Light/Flickr)

The Catholic Church has left Antarctica after 57 years.

The number of people attending services at the Chapel of the Snows at McMurdo Station has declined to the point that there is no longer a need for a Catholic priest, according to Radio New Zealand.

The National Science Foundation, the group that runs the US Antarctic Programme where the church is located, has asked the New Zealand diocese to end its association with the Antarctic outpost.

However, there will still be a military chaplaincy at the base providing inter-denominational services and personal support.

“There is a gradual decrease in religiosity, there is also a decrease in the number of people working at McMurdo Station and the South Pole and budget cuts, so all of these factors have led to the decision that only one chaplain is necessary,” said Fr Dan Doyle, co-ordinator of the Catholic Church in Antarctica. He has spent 14 summers there since 1984.

“Before this digital age people felt very isolated and lonely; they were always under so much pressure, so I did a lot of counselling and peer support,” he said. “It was great experience providing the ministry to the end of the earth.”

Fr Doyle said that at its busiest there were about 2000 men and women at McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott Stations and Scott Base at any one time.

“We used to fly to the South Pole for a day or two and we would go to the out-stations, I got to look at glaciers and historic huts,” he said.

“When the divers were working I would be their spotter standing on the ice. There have been plenty of times I have had to count penguins.”