History of the Archdiocese
When Mercy Sister Arlene Boyd arrived in the brand-new Archdiocese of Anchorage in the summer of 1967, she was given a daunting task, along with a handful of other nuns and seminarians, she was to knock on every door and take a census of the Catholic population from Mountain View in Anchorage to the coast of Dillingham and on to the island of Kodiak.
“We weren't used to the sunshine so late at night," Sister Boyd recalls. "I remember once, we knocked on a door and suddenly realized it was 11 o'clock in the evening."
The census was the brainchild of Anchorage's first archbishop, Joseph Ryan, who needed a sense of who his church was in the vast territory that had been established as an archdiocese in 1966. The census found some 38,000 baptized Catholics, a small percentage of whom were active parishioners. Statistics on baptized Catholics are no longer maintained; however, the number of registered Catholics now approaches 35,000, spread over an area more than twice the size of Washington state. An aerial view of the archdiocese finds it glistening like a jewel from towering Mount McKinley to the pipeline terminus in Valdez. From the fishing waters of Bristol Bay to the artists' galleries of Homer, from the glass windows of Anchorage's downtown towers to the waves lapping at shore side canneries in Dutch Harbor, the vastness and geographic diversity of the Archdiocese of Anchorage are apparent.
The challenge, said Archbishop Francis T. Hurley, Ryan's successor and currently the archbishop emeritus, is to see that "wherever we are in our vast territory, we're part of one archdiocese, or local church."
Born of Destruction
The devastating Good Friday earthquake in l964, which wreaked havoc on South Central Alaska, provided the impetus for the creation of an archdiocese there. At that time, South Central was under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Juneau, while a separate diocese existed in Fairbanks. After the earthquake, Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York accompanied Egidio Vagnozzi, the pope's apostolic delegate, to Alaska to view the damage. "They quickly saw that Anchorage was the focal point of future development for the state and the life of the church," relates Archbishop Hurley. And so, in 1966, the Holy See created the Archdiocese of Anchorage and made Alaska a separate province.
Today, 70% of the archdiocese's Catholics worship in one of eight parishes in the city of Anchorage. The rest belong to 14 parishes throughout rural Alaska. The face of this church is one of increasing ethnic diversity.
Toward the Future
The Archdiocese will celebrate its 40th Anniversary of its establishment in February, 2006. This event will begin a process of Evangelization that will unfold a ten-year Pastoral Plan, leading to our Golden Jubilee Year in 2016. Our current Archbishop, the Most Reverend Roger L. Schwietz, O.M.I. has said that the Pastoral Plan, which is strategic, collaborative, practical, and pastoral will lead to the church of south central Alaska becoming an Evangelizing Archdiocese with Evangelizing Parishes and Evangelizing Ministries.