Archbishop discusses past leading up to his installation

Editor’s note: This article was published in the May 2023 issue of the North Star Catholic.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In celebration of the third anniversary of Pope Francis’s decision to name Bishop Andrew E. Bellisario, C.M., of Juneau as archbishop of the new Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau on May 19, 2020, the North Star Catholic sat down with him to help readers better understand the upbringing and past assignments of the man parishioners of the archdiocese call their “shepherd.”

Archbishop Bellisario said he was born and raised in southern California by his father, Rocky, the first family member born in the United States to Italian immigrants, and his mother, Mildred, who grew up on a farm in upstate New York during the Depression.

“My father had that experience of going to school and only knowing Italian,” the archbishop said about his father’s upbringing. “That’s how my dad learned English — by going to grade school.

“My father had the experience of an immigrant family, which I’m very sensitive to,” he said. Archbishop Bellisario is a member of the Vincentians, a Catholic congregation of priests and brothers who dedicate their lives to evangelizing and serving the poor and marginalized.

The archbishop grew up about 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles in Alhambra, California, two miles from the San Gabriel Mission. The archbishop said it was a diverse area with many cultures blending together when he was young.

“I was brought up in a multicultural area,” the archbishop said. “We had people from all over, from different places in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, so I grew up in an area that did well integrating different cultures and ethnic groups.”

Since childhood, Archbishop Bellisario has enjoyed spending his free time watching movies, beginning with small black and white televisions in the 1950s and 1960s and then at cinemas, attentively admiring the cinematography of Hollywood classics.

“I used to do that all the time because I like paying attention to the detail and structure (of movies),” he said, noting his love for movies remains even though he doesn’t have much time to watch them with his current responsibilities.

From his earliest days, the archbishop recalled wanting to be a priest. “It is one of my earliest memories,” he said. He enrolled in Saint Vincent’s Seminary High School in Montebello, California, in 1971. At this time, Archbishop Bellisario spent countless hours with Vincentian priests learning about their congregation, the priesthood, and the life of St. Vincent de Paul.

St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of charitable societies, is recognized for his charity and compassion for people experiencing poverty. He founded the Congregation of the Mission, commonly known as the Vincentians, in France in 1625. He also co-founded with St. Louise de Marillac the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in 1633.

“At that time (in the early 1600s), France had many poor people. There were some well-off people but many more poor people and many refugees from wars that were going on,” the archbishop said. “St. Vincent reached out to try to assist those people and educate the clergy so they could be good priests to help people in their spiritual growth.”

The archbishop attributes his compassion for the poor and needy, which began at an early age, to his father’s lessons and the challenges his father faced. However, that compassion and love for people grew as he took steps to join the Vincentian congregation, which he officially joined in 1975 after graduating high school.

Upon completing his novitiate, the probationary period of being a novice of a religious order or congregation, in Santa Barbara, California, in 1976, he attended and graduated from Saint Mary’s of the Barrens Seminary College in Perryville, Missouri, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. He acquired his Master of Divinity degree four years later at DeAndreis Institute of Theology in Lemont, Illinois.

Archbishop Bellisario was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, Province of the West, on June 16, 1984, at St. Vincent’s Church in Los Angeles.

Archbishop Bellisario served as dean of students at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Montebello; parochial vicar and administrator of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Montebello; the pastor of Saint Vincent de Paul Church in Huntington Beach, California; the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Patterson, California; and the director of the De Paul Evangelization Center in Montebello. He also served as the provincial superior of the Vincentians in the western United States and the director of the Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in Los Altos Hills, California.

“In parishes in which I served there were people experiencing poverty,” he said.

The archbishop recalls serving migrant workers in his parish in the Central Valley of California during his three years as a priest there and when he was a deacon many years ago.

“It’s one of the major agriculture regions of the United States, the Central Valley,” he said. “Many migrant workers would come to take care of a lot of the agricultural work.” The 1960’s TV western drama “The Big Valley” is set in 1880’s Stockton in the Central Valley.

“I have experience serving persons who are poor, immigrants, refugees, and other groups of people in need,” the archbishop said. “Serving people through their experiences and challenges helped me learn to love everybody and not just see one group as being special over anyone else. I try to treat everyone equally through fairness and not playing favorites.” He noted that this way of thinking is an additional attribute the archbishop learned from his father’s and mother’s character and life challenges.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the Vincentians assigned Father Bellisario as superior of the new International Mission of the Vincentians in Alaska to Spanish-speaking people. Before he was appointed superior, the archbishop said he had occasionally visited Anchorage for a few days to see the Daughters of Charity in Alaska when he was the Director of Daughters of Charity while living in Los Altos Hills.

The archbishop had a six-month assignment serving at St. Anthony Parish in Anchorage in 2015 before being named pastor of the Cathedral Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage in May 2016.

The following year, Pope Francis appointed him the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Juneau on July 11, 2017. He was later ordained and installed as bishop at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Juneau on Oct. 10, 2017.

Archbishop Bellisario was appointed the apostolic administrator for the Archdiocese of Anchorage following the pope’s decision to appoint Archbishop Paul Etienne as coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle in April 2019.

A year later, on May 19, 2020, the pope announced the unification of the former Archdiocese of Anchorage and the former Diocese of Juneau. The pope’s decision dissolved the former dioceses and erected the new ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau.

The archbishop said the new archdiocese similarly reflects the former Diocese of Juneau area before the former Archdiocese of Anchorage was established on Feb. 9, 1966, by St. Paul VI. That year, the newly formed Archdiocese of Anchorage took the territories from the Diocese of Juneau.

On the same day of the pope’s announcement, he appointed the then-Juneau bishop to lead the newly created archdiocese. Archbishop Bellisario was officially installed as the first archbishop of Anchorage-Juneau later that year on September 17 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage.

“Serving the people of God as bishop here in Alaska is my joy,” the archbishop said. “I am grateful and privileged that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has allowed me to serve in this new archdiocese.”


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