By Deacon Madison Hayes
The North Star Catholic
After a brief excursion through the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway during the winter of 2013 from Bellingham to Haines, I always desired to return and experience the Church among the communities of Southeast. This summer, I was blessed to finally have this opportunity as our new archdiocese begins to take shape. In these weeks leading up to my priestly ordination, I am grateful for this time to spiritually prepare for my future ministry among such wonderful people, in the company of their joyful priests, and around such a beautiful part of the place, we all affectionately call home – Alaska!
The ‘Real’ Alaska
Before the creation of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, there was a friendly competition as to which was the most beautiful diocese in the world. But no longer! Not surprisingly, each community I visited was proud to claim that their chunk of the state was “the real Alaska.” Yet, I found this to be true with each new adventure, discovering that our unity in diversity makes each place in Alaska worth showing off. So, whether I was praying in the smallest cathedral in the world, watching Italy win the Euro Cup final in the first city of Alaska, or jogging between Tlingit totem poles in the Tongass National Forest, the different stories of Southeast made each day new and exciting.
The Two Shall Become One
I have been to many weddings, and whether it was for a family member or a close friend, one reality about these celebrations has been consistent. Besides the bride, the groom, and maybe a few immediate family members, people at the reception never had the chance to get acquainted. So when I was “married” to the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau as a deacon on the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux last year, I knew that it would be important to meet the other half of my new family. Since people will soon call me “Father Madison,” meeting many of you and learning about your story has strengthened my new identity. Although I only had the time to preach one Sunday in each parish before my flight to the next island, I can already see the Lord at work in bringing our families together.
Roman Heart, Alaskan Blood
My first assignment as a priest will be to return and finish my license in Moral Theology at the Alphonsian Academy. When I told people that I would be returning for my fifth year of studies in Rome, many shared their own stories of making pilgrimages to St. Peter’s Basilica, their first time seeing the Pope, or their strong desire to visit in the future. For Catholics in Alaska, it’s almost as if we share two homes – and I hope to bring back something from our Roman home when I return.
Now, imagine the reaction of my Italian friends when I told them I would be serving as a priest in Alaska. Their emotional gestures fire on all cylinders. Already in awe from watching an Alaskan-themed TV program, they usually rattle off their empathy for my suffering in frigid temperatures and display their pensiveness about getting any closer to our wildlife than the photos I share from my summer albums. But running deeper than this surface experience of my two homes is a spiritual richness that I have learned to treasure. A Roman heart – formed as a priest within the heart of our Church and close to the Holy Father; and Alaskan blood – flowing from my family history before Alaska was a state and enriched each time that I minister in our local church. If there are two things that can make us all feel at home, it is our shared Roman Catholic faith and our Alaskan heritage.
As our archdiocese continues to grow together, I believe that the best way to accomplish the mission that the Lord has set before us is with hearts united in the love of God and His Church. My time in Southeast Alaska has encouraged me in my vocation to serve God’s people in the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau and opened a new chapter in the story of His work in Alaska, which is always full of surprises!