By VIVIAN BORGES
Frances Banish is no newcomer to the Catholic Church. Despite living through nine popes and experiencing more than a century of sacraments, she is hungry for more.
Now a resident at Primrose Retirement Home in downtown Wasilla, she marked her 102nd birthday on Feb. 7. The next day a small choir from Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School, along with a few parishioners and two priests, celebrated the occasion with Mass and a reception.
Banish is still very much engaged with her spiritual journey, and with her fellow residents and those who stop by to visit. She moved to Alaska five years ago upon death of her husband and older sister. With no children she came north at the invitation of a younger relative.
Banish said she is happy at Primrose and likes visiting with the priests from Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla, Father Joseph McGilloway and Father Michael Ko.
During her Feb. 8 birthday celebration, the two clergy concelebrated Mass while students from Our Lady of the Valley comprised the choir. Banish told Father McGilloway it was perhaps the best birthday she’s ever had.
Banish has long prioritized daily Mass, a practice she picked up from her parents as a child. While she now must be content with weekly liturgies at Primrose, daily Mass was a staple for many decades.
Growing up in Flushing, New York, with two older sisters, she benefited from devout Catholic parents. Her mother was born in Pennsylvania and her father in Ireland. Her father attended daily Mass before work and her mother attended daily Mass after dropping the children off at school.
Now three years into her second century, Banish doesn’t read newspapers, but relies on neighbors to tell her if anything noteworthy happens. Despite the limitations of growing older, she exudes a deep sense of contentment.
Over the course of her long life, Banish said that perhaps the most dramatic change has been transportation. She grew when walking was the main mode of transportation. For longer trips one might take a horse and buggy, trolley or railcar. When she was younger, a family benefactor provided her family with enough money to buy a car, which she said was totally unheard of for her policeman father.
“A policeman with an automobile! That’s crazy!” she said her father constantly heard from neighbors.
In reflecting on Banish’s long life of faith, Father McGilloway told the Catholic Anchor that people often assume elderly people are regular churchgoers because they have nothing better to do. But many older parishioners, he said, simply have a strong desire for the sacraments.
Father McGilloway said he appreciates Banish’s witness and fidelity to the faith for over a hundred years.
As far as attending regular Mass, Banish doesn’t see that as particularly laudable.
“I can still walk,” she said with a laugh. ”There’s only one God, worship him while you can.”