The week after Easter saw the demolition of the old rectory at Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage, and if luck, weather and other logistics associated with building go according to plan, Dominican priests could move into new housing the week before Christmas.
The original rectory was constructed in 1958, according to various historical records, and served as housing for the transient priests of the era, but the establishment of Holy Family as a parish transcends the rectory and dates back to Oct. 17, 1915. In 1966, the archdiocese was formed and Holy Family became a cathedral.
“At the time, the rectory was a place for any priests, secular priests, and the first Dominicans arrived here in July of 1974,” said Dominican priest Father Steven Maekawa, who currently serves as pastor at the historic cathedral. Father Maekawa has researched the history of Holy Family through the years.
The old rectory had been remodeled several times since its original construction, Father Maekawa noted, but some integral features of the structure remained unchanged, in terms of comforts, aesthetics — and safety.
“The old rectory had one functional entrance,” he explained, adding that priests, friars, novices and visiting brothers had to navigate through a series of three doors to get in or out — and that one of the spaces between the doors had become the repository for shovels and other snow removal equipment. The downstairs level consisted of two guest rooms, but they were underground and had no windows for light and no escape route in the event of a fire or other calamity.
Though the new rectory will be only slightly more capacious than the old, it offers vast improvements in the way of comfort, said Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne.
“The primary thing about the rectory is that it’s going to provide a much better place for the parish priests,” he said. “It’s going to be a wonderful space for the Dominican priests in the community.”
According to Father Maekawa, the new rectory will house up to six priests and include two new guest rooms and a chapel.
“We frequently have brothers up here visiting during the summers,” he said. “From April to October it’s not unusual to have all the rooms being used.”
Also included is a library, which is paramount to the Dominicans priests (also known as the Order of Preachers) whose backgrounds are steeped in the arts, sciences, mathematics and teaching.
“Being Dominicans, we’re very excited about that too,” said Father Maekawa. In addition to the internal improvements, the adjoining courtyard will be slightly larger than the old one.
Funding for the estimated $4 million project is entirely funded by a donation from the Rasmuson family.
Father Maekawa said the new rectory represents more than a housing improvement for priests.
“Isn’t it great,” he said, “that we’re staging and expanding for future opportunities here? We’re building upon the shoulders of others, and this is an ongoing sign of the fruitfulness of the ministry and the parish.”