We Give Thanks for Forty Years
The Archdiocese of Anchorage is one of 170 dioceses (or geographic areas of responsibility) of the Catholic Church in the United States. The Archdiocese of Anchorage was established on February 9, 1966. Its 138,985 square miles encompasses the Third Judicial District of Alaska, known as Southcentral Alaska, an area larger than combining many states in the lower 48. The largest population base of the archdiocese, and all of Alaska, is in Anchorage, located at the head of Cook Inlet, the northern most point of the Pacific Ocean.
Geography and Demographic Factors
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and sits at the base of the Chugach Mountains along the coast of Cook Inlet in the south-central part of the State. Named an All-America City in 2002, Anchorage is about the size of the State of Delaware and is home to 42 percent of Alaska’s population. The population of the Archdiocese of Anchorage is approximately 400,000, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the population of the entire state of Alaska. The general population of Anchorage is approximately 250,000. There are eight parishes in the Anchorage urban area. The other 13 parishes and missions are in the more rural parts of the archdiocese. Many are accessible only by airplane or boat since the road system in Alaska is very limited.
The estimated Catholic population in the archdiocese is 32,170, only 8% of the overall population. There are over 11,000 registered families in our parishes and missions, and another estimated 2,500 families who periodically attend but are not registered. The largest parish St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, located in south Anchorage, has approximately 1,500 families. Many of the smaller missions in the rural areas of the archdiocese have less than 20 families. Most parishes range in size from 60 to 900 families.
The climate in Southcentral Alaska is severe. While the summer months are pleasant, the nine months between September and May are cold, dark, and dangerous for travel. An extreme example is the fact that for many days each winter, air travel to St. Christopher by the Sea Mission in Unalaska, on the Aleutian Chain, at a cost of over $1,000 roundtrip and approximately a three hour airflight from Anchorage, is impossible because of wind, fog, or snow. It is not uncommon for those who travel there to be stuck on the ground for days at a time. Yet another example of the harsh climate is the drive from Anchorage to Holy Family Parish in Glennallen. This trip can only be done by a five-hour drive on a two-lane road through numerous mountain passes or by private aircraft since there is no scheduled air service to the community.
In short, outside of Anchorage, the archdiocese encompasses a vast geographically challenging area with severe climate conditions and major cost barriers to effective ministry. Without the assistance of groups such as the Committee on the Home Missions, this ministry would be even more difficult.