Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Anchorage will take on an important new role when it is elevated to a co-cathedral on Dec. 12, the feast day of its patroness.
It has been a long road for the faith community, from its early days as a parish without a building, founded in a much-smaller Anchorage in 1970. Mass was held then at Turnagain Methodist Church. Later, the parish constructed a building which was intended to serve as both worship area and multi-purpose room until a church could be built. It took more than 30 years to bring that dream to fruition.
Most would agree it was worth the wait. Today, the growing community worships in a beautiful Spanish mission style church, with two bell towers, dedicated in 2005, and this month that church will gain its auspicious new title of co-cathedral. And the multipurpose room, named the Lunney Center after Msgr. John Lunney, the beloved founding pastor, continues to host a variety of cultural and religious events.
When you ask people to describe the parish, words you hear include “diverse,” “multicultural” and “welcoming.”
Diversity begins from the top down. Pastor Father Vincent Blanco, who has served the parish in various capacities since 2001, is a native of the Philippines. He said it has been a “tremendous honor for the parishioners” to have their parish become a co-cathedral.
Father Blanco offers a weekly Sunday morning Mass in Spanish, while the Filipino community gathers for Mass on Sunday evenings. Other Masses serve English speakers, but everyone in the community is welcome at all liturgies.
Patricia Gould is the pastoral team coordinator at the parish, and she leads Hispanic ministry. She describes her parish as “a wonderful, multi-cultural parish.
“Our gift is the diversity of cultures here,” she said.
Gould says a recent study revealed that parishioners are 43 percent Caucasian, 30 percent Filipino and 27 percent Hispanic. She added that the parish population is 743 families, up from the 684 families enrolled in 2005 at the new church’s dedication.
But those numbers may not reflect the entire Hispanic population, who are not as likely to register formally as other groups, said Gould. And the Hispanic population is itself diverse, with parishioners from Mexico, Peru, Columbia, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and beyond.
This kind of diversity is not without its challenges, Gould noted. All new groups of Americans want to assimilate into the culture.
“Assimilation is about integration,” she said. The staff works with people to integrate into the life of the parish and their new country without losing their cultural identity and their roots.
She described it as a “process” which has been growing at Our Lady of Guadalupe for years. She has seen much more acceptance of diversity within the parish as different groups participate more in each other’s activities.
That’s the goal of Fernando Cortez, a native-born American whose heritage is Mexican. Cortez is the parish receptionist, but also leads a large Hispanic youth group for ages 13-17 that meets on Friday nights. Each Friday 40 to 60 youth gather for activities ranging from Bible studies to community service.
Cortez’ goal is to reach out to other youth within the parish who no longer have a youth group. A recent “Black and White” Dance hosted by the group drew good participation from other kids within the parish, and Cortez hopes it’s the beginning of more diversity.
As the parish absorbs the news of becoming a co-cathedral, Gould said the response has varied. The more established Caucasian community is excited. The Hispanic community reacted with a little more apprehension, she said, and the parish has spent some time assuring them that things won’t change all that much.
As a co-cathedral, the parish will host many high profile liturgies and events. But in reality, because of its size — 16,580 square feet and pew seating for 560 — and because of its large parking lot, the parish has actually been playing host to many archdiocesan events for some time.
And the community at large, including the Anchorage Concert Chorus which regularly performs there, enjoys the architectural atmosphere and quality acoustics of the church.
Events like the Midnight Mass at Christmas Eve and the annual Chrism Mass are already held at the Spanish style church. Archbishop Schwietz said this led him to consider making its status as co-cathedral official.
Father Blanco noted the fact that the archbishop resides in the parish rectory, which also makes the new title of co-cathedral a good fit for the parish.
“We have a great presence of the archbishop here, and it speaks a lot about the church as the people of God,” Father Blanco said.
Holy Family Cathedral will continue as the historic cathedral of Anchorage, a parish which serves people from throughout the city and many visitors to the archdiocese.
Meanwhile, the parish on Wisconsin Street in West Anchorage is already a bustling place. Youth minister Cortez said the schedule is full every day and the newly acquired title of co-cathedral will just add to the energy.