The Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau’s youngest priest began his first pastoral assignment as parochial vicar of three Southcentral parishes and their respective missions in mid-September.
“I thank the archbishop, for his confidence in me to take on this new assignment, and Father Joseph [McGilloway], for receiving me into his parish with such kindness and generosity,” said 34-year-old Father Madison Hayes, who was appointed his new role by Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M., on Aug. 4. “I am excited to be back in Alaska, and excited to see what the Lord has in store.”
As of Sept. 11, Fr. Hayes is serving Sacred Heart Parish in Wasilla, Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Big Lake, St. Bernard Parish in Talkeetna, St. Christoper Mission in Willow, and St. Philip Benizi Mission in Trapper Creek.
Since this is his first pastoral assignment, Fr. Hayes said he will carry out “pastoral care” and other church duties for his parishes alongside current pastor Fr. McGilloway.
“Because of the nature of this assignment, with five locations and it being my first parish place, the main assignment is my focus at this time,” said Fr. Hayes when asked about any additional duties he may be taking on. “I am just one priest, and I cannot bi-locate. However, I will be where I can when I can.”
Fr. Hayes noted he expects to earn a lot of miles under his belt due to the long driving distance between each of his parishes and missions. The drive from Sacred Heart Parish to his farthest assignment in Trapper Creek is almost 150 miles roundtrip with roughly three hours of road time.
Fr. McGilloway has had to rely on his three deacons to preside communion, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other pastoral needs for the five locations since June. The addition of Fr. Hayes will offer some relief for the current clergymen.
“We just can’t be in two places at once,” Fr. McGilloway said. However, he noted the deacons have gone above and beyond to ensure they serve parishioners throughout their area. “They’re doing way more than they ever expected to be doing, I would say, and they’re doing a great job, honestly.”
Dominican priests from Holy Family Old Cathedral in Anchorage have also been making monthly visits to St. Bernard Parish and St. Philip Benizi Mission to help serve the local faithful.
The Mat-Su region has dealt with a low supply of clergy for years, according to Fr. McGilloway, but recently it has caused headaches for him and his deacons. Fr. McGilloway noted that common practices at church such as offering the Eucharist to his parishioners have seen complications due to a lack of priests to consecrate bread for parishes and missions outside of Wasilla.
The complications have not stopped them from providing the Eucharist for parishioners in their region, but it added another bump on their busy road. Fr. McGilloway noted that Sacred Heart manages to have Spanish, Byzantine, Catholic, and Filipino services — when Fr. Dice was available — as well as the regular services at the other parishes before the arrival of Fr. Hayes.
“I think that it’s important to acknowledge that with limited resources, we’re still able to do so much,” Fr. McGilloway said.
Although they are unable to hold Mass at all locations each weekend like Anchorage-area parishes, with two priests, Fr. McGilloway said, they manage to hold Mass at three churches on the weekend. The last time each parish and mission held Mass on the weekend was when three priests were assigned to the region, Fr. McGilloway said.
“If we had three priests up here it would be perfect,” said Renamary Rauchenstein, director of religious education for St. Bernard Parish. “We could serve all the parishes in the region.”
Months of only having one priest for the three parishes and two missions makes the addition of Fr. Hayes a blessing, according to Rauchenstein.
“We had Fr. Joseph once a month and the Dominicans once a month too. The rest of the time, it’s up to us,” she said. “I’m really happy that we have him [Fr. Hayes]. He’s young and interesting to talk to. We’re really blessed to have him with us.”
After being ordained in August 2021, Fr. Hayes, who also served as a chaplain for the Air Force Reserves, spent his first year of priesthood finishing his studies in Rome. Most recently, during his summer assignments, Fr Hayes spent a month in Antigua, Guatemala, for Spanish language immersion. However, he said his summer assignments as a seminarian and varied life experiences are what truly prepared him for his new assignment.
“All of my experiences at the parishes in the Valley have been great,” he said. “I remember being moved by the kindness of the people in the Valley and impressed by the amount of young families filling the pews at Mass.”
Fr. Hayes is well-traveled and experienced. He grew up overseas in a family of Catholic converts, traveled to more than 35 countries, served in the military, and was educated in some of the top pontifical institutions of higher education in Rome.
After years of studying and spiritual growth, Fr. Hayes is excited to finally serve his own congregation.
“It was a challenge to be a ‘Father’ without a parish family,” he said. “I’m excited to learn from everyone [on] how to be a good priest — especially the things that they cannot teach in the seminary, those things which must be experienced.”