History of the Archdiocese

About Alaska

Map of the Archdiocese of Anchorage

Alaska is a land of great national beauty and environmental diversity. One-fifth the size of the United States, Alaska is the northern-, western- and easternmost point in the United States. It’s true! Mainland Alaska has 6,640 miles of coastline and, including islands, 33,904 miles of shoreline. Diversity, as in all of God’s creation, is abundant in Alaska.

The largest state in the United States, Alaska is a sparsely populated land of immense natural beauty. Its Aleutian Islands extend into the Eastern Hemisphere. Alaska’s tremendous land mass is equal to one-fifth of the continental United States. Commonly called The Last Frontier or Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska takes its name from an Aleut word meaning “great land” or “that which the sea breaks against.”

Alaska has three million lakes, over 3,000 rivers, 17 of the USA’s 20 highest peaks, 15 national parks, preserves, and monuments, about 100,000 glaciers, 60 of which are within 50 miles of Anchorage. Portage Glacier, 45 miles south of downtown Anchorage, is one of Alaska’s most visited attractions.


History of the Archdiocese of Anchorage

History of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska

Begun in 1966, by then Archbishop Joseph Ryan, with a census of the Anchorage and throughout Knik Arm, the Archdiocese of Anchorage was established for the some 38,000 baptized Catholics in the area from Valdez to Mt. McKinley from Big Lake to Dutch Harbor. An area twice the size of the state of Washington covers from about one-third the entire state of Alaska.

The diocese, which includes 29 parishes, was officially established on February 9, 1966. Catholic missionaries in Alaska date back to the 18th century, and today’s Archdiocese, which encompasses over 350,000 square miles covering from the Aleutian Islands chain to the Bering Sea to Cordova and Valdez.

History Timeline


  • Archdiocese of Anchorage established
  • Fr. Joseph Ryan consecrated a bishop
  • Bishop Ryan installed as Archbishop and Holy Family Church becomes a Cathedral


  • Fr. Francis Hurley ordained a bishop
  • Eskimo Deacon Program inaugurated in Bethel


  • Holy Spirit Center is established


  • Bishop Hurley appointed Archbishop of Anchorage


  • Pope John Paul II visits Anchorage


  • Nativity of Jesus parish in Magadan, Russia is founded


  • Catholic Anchor begins publication


  • Roger Schwietz, O.M.I. is installed as Archbishop of Anchorage


  • Paul D. Etienne, D.D., S.T.L. is installed as Archbishop of Anchorage


  • Bishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M. of the Diocese of Juneau is named Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Anchorage
© 2020 Archdiocese of Anchorage. All rights reserved.   Site Credits   Site Map

Connect with us: