Father Vincent Blanco, known affectionately as “Father Vince,” has been the pastor of St. Anthony Church in Anchorage for the past four years. His kindness and zeal for the faith is accented through a vibrant sense of humor.
“I’m the youngest of 12 children,” he said. “I have six sisters and five brothers, and my parents saved the best for last.”
Father Blanco was immersed in his faith since childhood, growing up in the Philippines.
“When I was a young boy, we would attend monthly Mass at the barrio in our hometown,” he said. “After Mass the priest would come to our house for a meal, and we became acquainted with them through the meal — with our family.”
The call to priesthood was kindled from a young age.
“As I grew older, I was drawn to the mystery of God’s love,” he said. “One day, I said to the priests, ‘I want to be like you someday.’”
As the years went by, however, he forgot about this desire until attending a high school vocations talk.
“I decided to visit the seminary for a week to see what it was like for me — if it was the kind of person I wanted to become,” Father Blanco recalled. “There was a test I had to take and I passed, so I decided that this was what I was going to do.”
Seminarian formation in the Philippines looks a bit different from the program in the U.S.
“We don’t go to study in other schools or universities,” Father Blanco explained. “We attend college and theology in the seminary first. I studied philosophy and English for five years in college seminary after high school — and we have more than just academic formation that accompanies it. We experience community life and spirituality and spiritual direction — we have to find time for prayer for ourselves, and we attend Mass every day through college.”
In seminary the future priests are required to speak English in class to practice the language.
“But there are other dialects there as well that we use in conversation with each other,” Father Blanco added.
After five years in college seminary and another five years of major seminary in pastoral theology, Father Blanco was ordained to the priesthood on April 3, 1990. After his first year of shadowing older priests in multiple parishes, he spent the next decade ministering with Filipino communities, before being called to Alaska.
His connection to the north came through fellow Filipino, Father Luz Flores, who was ministering in the Anchorage Archdiocese under the late Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley.
“Archbishop Hurley asked Father Luz if there were any priests from our diocese who would want to come to help with the shortage of priests here in Alaska,” Father Blanco said. “Father Luz mentioned it to our bishop, to see if we had any priests who would want to go to Alaska.” He also recommended Father Blanco, whom he had mentored in the seminary.
“I was one of his favorite students, so what could I do?” Father Blanco said of Father Luz.
Father Blanco arrived in Alaska on July 13, 2001, and has been here ever since.
“I was so amazed at the six months of winter and the snow,” he said. “It was a kind of adventure for me, a new life.”
Father Blanco’s heart for service and adventurous spirit matches the people he serves.
“People are independent because they came from other places, from other states, and I can relate to that,” he said. “I’m trying to find my life and meaning, and for as long as possible, to stay with them in the capacity of God’s grace to be a priest. I try to be a good priest and serve God’s people.”
At the heart of his ministry is prayer.
“When I offer daily Mass, I have to be there one hour before the Mass to really pray,” he said. “Every time I say Mass, I do my best, because this could be my last one.”
Father Blanco offered some advice to young men discerning God’s call.
“If you want to become a priest, that’s really good, God is inspiring you,” he said. “Pray about it and the most beautiful things can happen to a person if you discern to become a priest. Your total being, your mind and your heart is to serve for the greater glory of God and his church. I’d encourage you to go to Mass as much as you can because it’s the core of our priesthood, the Eucharist.”
Some 18 years later, Father Blanco is still serving the Anchorage community and has no plans to leave anytime soon.
“My heart desires to stay here until my retirement when I’m 70, and at 70 I have to go back home and retire and die,” he said. “I really love this place. It’s something beautiful, something that’s drawn me to the mystery of God’s love, where I can say to myself, thank you, Lord, for giving me this place and the people I’m called to serve.”