A Mass of Thanksgiving celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Anchorage drew an intimate gathering of about 70 individuals at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral on Feb. 9 — 50 years to the day a new diocese was carved out of what was essentially the Alaskan wilderness.
Ten musicians led the assembled in the opening song, “The Church’s One Foundation”, as altar servers, eight archdiocesan priests, two deacons and Archbishop Roger Schwietz processed to the altar.
Archbishop Schwietz began the Mass with a word of acknowledgement for the late Archbishop Joseph Ryan, first archbishop of the archdiocese. To the assembled faithful he said, “Thanks for growing as a faith community.”
During the homily Archbishop Schwietz noted that Alaska has been blessed by the Creator in forming a community of people who are close to nature. In fact the natural world had a significant role in the establishment of the archdiocese, he said. The 1964 Good Friday earthquake and its aftermath shaped not only the physical landscape, but the spiritual one as well.
Following that pivotal event, the Vatican’s papal nuncio to the United States came to Alaska to survey the devastation. Observing the vastness of the state and the massive territory encompassed by the Juneau and Fairbanks dioceses, he felt another diocese should be carved out of the young state. Shortly thereafter, Monsignor Ryan, whose pectoral cross and crosier were used by Archbishop Schwietz for the recent liturgy, was named the first archbishop of the new Archdiocese of Anchorage.
It was happy circumstance, Archbishop Schwietz noted, that the celebration of that event of Feb. 9, 1966, fell on a day when the customary readings recalled another day of thanksgiving, that of Solomon, upon the completion of the temple initially planned by King David.
“What we are celebrating is a temple too, of spiritual stones, not physical stones,” he observed.
Archbishop Ryan, he added, was like David, who put together the material for a temple. He prepared the way for the arrival of Archbishop Francis Hurley in 1975. Archbishop Hurley, much like Solomon, was instrumental in realizing the vision of his predecessor. “He gave form to the archdiocese and in so many ways, accomplished a great deal,” Archbishop Schwietz said.
Now we see the archdiocese expanding in so many different ways, “with so many people from many cultures coming to form one family of faith as it continues to grow, and that is what we are giving thanks for,” Archbishop Schwietz said.
He then referenced Pope Francis’ call for a Year of Mercy, recalling the words of the day’s Gospel lament, “the people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Archbishop Schwietz said the pope “calls us more and more to change our hearts so we may come to know God’s mercy in our lives and to share that mercy with one another.”
He then prayed that as the church faces the challenges of the next 50 years, we would “understand how deeply, deeply our God loves us.”
Following the liturgy, a lively reception in the Lunney Center continued the celebration. Those attending ranged in age from young children to those born decades before the establishment of the archdiocese. They enjoyed refreshments and King Cakes decorated in the traditional purple, gold and green of Mardi Gras. Memories were shared as they viewed photo montages of events that occurred under the leadership of the three archbishops of Anchorage over the last 50 years.
“Here’s to the old folks,” Archbishop Schwietz toasted as the feasting began.
Maryann Molitor, long time parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe recalled in the years before the old church (now the Lunney Center) was built, the people were much like nomads, moving from parish to parish. Pat Redmond, who once worked at Holy Family Cathedral, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, said, “In every parish you can see the roots in Holy Family. We have become more diverse.”
Several folks praised the collaboration among parishes and spoke of the priests who grew up in them, and then returned to serve those who helped form them. As Redmond characterized it, “We are a huge archdiocese, but a small community that is more like one big parish.”