Priest who established Dominican friars in Anchorage dies

Father Paul Edward Scanlon, the tall, prayerful Dominican priest who had a major hand in establishing Dominican friars in Anchorage, died on Nov. 19 of respiratory failure in Los Angeles, Calif. He was 82. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease.

Father Scanlon served as provincial leader over the entire Western Dominican Province from 1969 to 1977. During that time, he accepted an invitation by late Anchorage Archbishop Joseph Ryan to bring Dominican friars to Anchorage to care for and run Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage.

According to historical accounts from the cathedral, Father Scanlon was impressed in 1974 by the need for Dominicans to establish a presence in Alaska.

“The greatest need in Anchorage is for a stable religious community that would offer not only effective leadership in ministry, but also the example of a healthy religious life and stability in that way of life,” he wrote at the time.

Assuming this new ministry in 1974, the Dominicans brought their evangelical preaching and the presence of a religious community of men to Anchorage.

For the past 42 years, the friars have continued this relationship with the Anchorage Archdiocese, bringing in scores of dynamic priests and religious brothers, many of them scholars and acclaimed authors.

More than two decades after helping establish the Anchorage community, Father Scanlon joined the Alaskan friars when he was assigned to serve as pastor of the downtown cathedral in the late 1990s. He later served again in Alaska for a number of years, heading the Hispanic ministry for the archdiocese and making monthly trips to St. Mary Church in Kodiak to serve the growing Hispanic community there.

Throughout his nearly six decades with the Dominican Order, Father Scanlon served in a great variety of ministries including: novice master, formation director and missionary in Mexico for nine years. Additionally, he offered many spiritual retreats and, in 2006, Our Sunday Visitor Press published his book “Finding the Illusive God.” Most recently he served as a priest in residence at St. Dominic Church in Los Angeles, Calif.

Born in Detroit in 1933, Father Scanlon was raised in a small town in Southern California, the only child of devout Catholic parents.

“Their faith graced me with a friendship with the Lord Jesus from earliest days,” Father Scanlon wrote in a brief outline of his life in 2007.

His call to serve the church came early and by age 19 he entered the Dominican Order. At age 26 he was ordained to the priesthood.

“As a high school student I loved the outdoors as well as carpentry and so had a romantic dream of one day being a foreign missionary,” he wrote of his early life.

Ordained just a few years before the start of the Second Vatican Council, Father Scanlon later served as Dominican provincial, overseeing the entire Western Province, 1969 to 1977. He noted it was a “vibrant” time “when both social life and church life were in great transition.”

“However they were blessed days for our Western Dominican Province as we reached a high water mark in vocations at a time when many other groups were experiencing an outgoing tide,” Father Scanlon recalled. “Our province was able to expand its boundaries and move enthusiastically into new ministries, such as campus ministry.”

His dream of being a foreign missionary was “partly realized when as provincial I had the great experience of visiting our brothers working in Chiapas, Mexico. After my time as provincial, with great help from a number of other friars, I worked in Mexicali, Mexico for nine years, where I learned so much from the humble poor and acquired a heightened interest in social justice issues.”

He added in his 2007 account: “God works in mysterious but beautiful ways, for as I write these lines I am ministering to the Hispanic people up in Alaska. Nearing my 50th anniversary of ordination I give thanks to the Lord for his faithful friendship despite my own frailties, the joy of preaching, and the gift of having ministered with marvelous Dominican Brothers and Sisters.”


A vigil Mass for Father Scanlon will be held at St. Dominic Church in Benicia, Calif., on Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held at the same parish the next day, Dec. 4, at 10 a.m. Burial of Father Scanlon’s body will follow immediately after the funeral Mass at St. Dominic’s Cemetery and a reception will follow in St. Dominic parish hall.

'Priest who established Dominican friars in Anchorage dies'
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