Historic cathedral marks a century of sharing the Gospel in Alaska

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Anchorage’s oldest church marked a momentous milestone on Sept. 15 — that was the day Holy Family Cathedral turned 100.

Celebration of the centenary reflected the joy and solemnity that many parishioners felt in being part of the mother church of the Anchorage Archdiocese.

Marked by great festivity, the centennial Mass was celebrated by Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz accompanied by 13 priests, including several former pastors of the cathedral. Four deacons and the Knights of Columbus garbed in full regalia were also on hand.

Hymns and readings for the evening liturgy recalled Christ as the foundation of the 2,000-year-old universal Catholic Church.

Holy Family Cathedral’s part in that long history began in 1915, when a group of men petitioned Bishop Edward O’Dea of Seattle to create a parish for the Catholics of the tent city which was constructed along the shores of Anchorage’s Ship Creek. Shortly thereafter a property was purchased at a public land auction to begin the process of constructing the new parish. The groundbreaking for the original church took place Sept. 15, 1915. A larger church was built on the site in 1947.

In his homily marking the century-old event, Archbishop Schwietz expressed gratitude for those priests and laity who have been a vital part of the parish from its humble beginning. He reminded the faithful that they are a part of that solid spiritual community which continues to this day.

Archbishop Schwietz then looked forward with hope to the future of the parish, stressing that it will continue to be a beacon of God’s presence among the people of Anchorage.

“We thank God, who remains among us and continues to guide us as we look forward to the next hundred years of this temple, built of Alaskan stones,” he said, adding that the parish “will continue to grow and bring salvation of our loving God to all those who come seeking God’s love, forgiveness and mercy.”

Following Mass, local Catholics shared reflections on the importance of Holy Family during a reception at the parish hall. Speakers, both young and older, highlighted the fact that the cathedral is a central part of their lives.

Joshua Fouch, age 10, said Holy Family is important to him, “because you get to receive Jesus at Communion at the Mass.” His father, Jason Fouch reflected upon the great opportunity to witness such a historic day.

“A century is a big deal,” he observed. “It’s not something that we’ll be able to celebrate again in our lifetimes. It’s especially important in Alaska, because we are such a young state.”

Longtime Anchorage resident John Agosti echoed the importance of celebrating the cathedral’s history.

“There are many descendants – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – of some of the families that established this parish,” he said. “I look around and see a lot of families who have been here forty, fifty, or even sixty years. They bring a lot of memories of struggle, pain, financial sacrifice, faithfulness and beauty. There is so much to be thankful for and appreciate. It’s just amazing what’s been accomplished in one hundred years.”

Long-time cathedral parishioner Natalie Riendl has been an active and faithful member of the historic parish.

“I’ve been here for forty-five years,” she said following the liturgy. “And it’s my second home, and there is something special about the church being here for one hundred years!”

For music director Gavin Duncan, the cathedral offers both a spiritual and professional home.

“Of all the parishes I’ve worked, Holy Family is by far the busiest, the largest, and from a personal level the most enjoyable,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such wonderful clergy and musicians for the past three-and-a half years, and I’m grateful for the archbishop’s support of sacred music in the archdiocese. I think that our work at the cathedral sends a message that we are a church for all Alaskans, and indeed the world.”

The packed reception included exhibits outlining the history of the parish, and cake decorated with an image of the cathedral, along with a champagne toast offered by organizers.

A priest who formerly served at the cathedral, Dominican Father Augustine Hilander, returned from his new post in California for the event. He was one of the key planners.

“This is a time of thanksgiving!” he exclaimed. We have so much to be thankful for.”

Father Hilander went on to thank the many volunteers who gave of their time and talents to plan the beautiful celebration, and expressed his deep gratitude to God.

“We wouldn’t be here without God, we wouldn’t be here without the people,” he said. “So let us come together and look forward to the next years, however long that is! Let us also look forward to eternity, because although we celebrate one hundred years today, we also look forward to celebrating in eternity!”

Current pastor of the cathedral Father Anthony Patalano delivered the toast, invoking God’s blessing upon Holy Family and all its parishioners.

Click here to view photos from this event.

'Historic cathedral marks a century of sharing the Gospel in Alaska'
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