Groundbreaking Filipino priest dies unexpectedly in Fairbanks

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Father Nelson Marilag, age 55, died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sept. 20 while serving as a priest in the Diocese of Fairbanks.

A native of the Philippines, he served in the Archdiocese of Anchorage after arriving from the Diocese of Butuan in 2002. After eight years with the archdiocese, in 2010 he began traveling between Anchorage and the Diocese of Fairbanks as part of an innovative program to share priests across Alaska’s three Catholic dioceses.

In 2012, he officially transferred to the Diocese of Fairbanks to better serve the Filipino communities there.

Upon Father Marilag’s death, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski issued a statement describing the priest as “a quiet and reserved man who exemplified a genuine gentleness of spirit, and a kindness and charity that knew no bounds. He fully embraced a true virtue of poverty as his room appeared to be that of a man who lived an ascetical life. May his living witness be a reminder to us all to embrace the simple life, show a deep care and concern for others through our generosity by serving the Body of Christ.”

In a 2009 interview with the Catholic Anchor, Father Marilag said he was initially spurred to become a priest by a former pastor who he said “really inspired me to serve the church.”

His favorite saint was Saint Joseph who he said “bears the name of being a foster father of Jesus and a great worker, too. It is my confirmation name given by my parents.”

While serving in the Anchorage Archdiocese, Father Marilag ministered to far-flung Catholic communities and missions.

He helped celebrate many colorful Catholic Filipino traditions in places like Unalaska along the Aleutian Islands.

Speaking on the unique aspects of being a priest in Alaska, Father Marilag said the remote places and inspiring people stand out.

“Aside from the resourcefulness of the people, there are various ways of culture that one will encounter in serving the church,” he said in 2009. “There is much to learn and to adjust to, in so many ways. But with this, it gives a sense of courage to be more independent.”

Father Marilag also served as needed in other parishes across the archdiocese. One of his last assignments, before transferring to Fairbanks, was at St. Michael Church in Palmer, where he assisted Father Tom Brundage. There he worked in prison ministry, celebrating Masses for inmates and helping with an evening study group on Saint John Paul II’s theological work on the human person, “Theology of the Body.”

In 2010, due to an acute shortage of priests in Alaska, Father Marilag became the vanguard for a new program of sharing clergy across the boundaries of Alaska’s three dioceses.

He traveled to serve Catholics in Barrow — the northernmost city in the United States and part of the Diocese of Fairbanks. In Barrow, the Catholic population is about 80 percent Filipino, making the ministry of a Filipino priest all the more relevant for the community.

In a 2010 interview from Barrow, Father Marilag told the Catholic Anchor that he was happy to minister there, despite the fact that the thermometer had dipped below zero and the sun was hidden for most of the day.

But most unusual was his discovery of so many fellow countrymen, he said.

“I was surprised to find the large number of Filipinos,” Father Marilag said, “and I could feel that sacramental need.”

In just a couple of days in the remote village, he had performed a baptism with more than 100 people attending and celebrated two weekend Masses, which drew about 150 people.

Upon request he also blessed many objects, heard confessions and blessed family homes.

Father Marilag’s final assignment began in 2015, when Fairbanks Bishop Zielinski appointed him parochial vicar of Saint Raphael Church in Fairbanks. At the time of his death he was also assigned as the visiting priest to parishes in Barrow, Holy Cross, Aniak and Kalskag.

Father Marilag’s funeral Mass was scheduled for Oct. 1 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Fairbanks. He will be buried in the Philippines near his family.

A memorial service will be scheduled in Anchorage at a later date.


'Groundbreaking Filipino priest dies unexpectedly in Fairbanks' have 26 comments

  1. September 2016 @ 8:13 pm Darcia Grace

    We met h Fr Nelson only a few times as he served mass in Nenana. He made quite the impression on me. He will be missed dearly. He really was humble and such a sweet kind soul. Pray for us Fr. Nelson..

    Reply

    • October 2016 @ 11:12 am Mr. N Mrs. Wm n Miriam Texeira

      A very dedicated priest to our religion. Served us in the most utmost way as he traveled to the villages, as we were in Barrow, Alaska when he first served @ our Parish, St. Michael”s in Barrow.. Thanking him for performing FIRST HOLY COMMUNION for our GREAT GRANDCHILDREN n also blessing our CHILDREN n GRANDCHILDREN’S homes in Barrow, Alaska. We are very happy to have had the opportunity to have SHARED’ a very special time w/our Father Nelson MARILAG, he will be greatly missed by all.. RIL..🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

      Reply

  2. September 2016 @ 5:36 pm Rebecca Celeres-Ampoon

    Father Marilag, you’ll greatly missed! My deepest sympathy to the bereaved MARILAG family.

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  3. September 2016 @ 12:45 am Felix & Nelda Canete

    Father Nelson was a great humble priest and friend. We came to know him during his short assignment in Kodiak. We will greatly miss his cheerfulness and good company. We the Canetes will never forget you Father Nelson!

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  4. September 2016 @ 8:32 am Tim Main

    I was blessed to have Fr. Nelson as my pastor during the year I taught in Barrow. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercies of God, rest in peace.

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  5. September 2016 @ 6:45 am Ponie A. Santiago

    Father Nelson Marilag is a good friend, a nice schoolmate in high school, a very thoughtful kuya, a very humble person and a very good Priest who SAVES many SOUL. I was so sad of his lost. My sincere condolences for MARILAGs Family. REST in PEACE PADRE

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  6. September 2016 @ 6:25 am Ponie A. Santiago

    Fr. Nelson is a good friend, a nice school mate, a very humble person, a very thoughtful kuya and good Priest who saves many soul, i was so sad for his lost. My deepest sympathy to the bereaved MARILAG family.

    Reply

  7. September 2016 @ 4:20 am rosita dayan

    We will surely miss Father Nelson. He was the godson of my mother and the last time my sister Liza and I saw him during Bishop Didi’s celebration he told us he will be coming home for good soon. May he rest in peace.

    Reply

  8. September 2016 @ 10:38 pm Ronnie & Marra Salazar

    Fr. Nelson pray for us and what us while you are in heaven RIP

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  9. September 2016 @ 6:32 pm Les Harvey

    It came as a shock to be told of your passing my dear friend in Christ, may you rest in Heaven with Jesus and his father. One day we will be together, thank you for your friendship and prayers.

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  10. September 2016 @ 6:22 pm Victor and Tita Garcia of Kodiak Alaska

    Rest in peace Father Nelson. We will never forget you. Your kindness and being a very nice person to everyone while you’re here in Kodiak will always be remembered. Our love and prayers be with you always. God bless your soul. We are going to miss you.

    Reply

  11. September 2016 @ 5:47 pm Rock C. Estanislao

    I’m one of the sacristan,,,(server) of father bobo,,, when he was at Saint Anne @San Joaquin’s parish church at Tubay Agusan del Note,,, he was one of the Priest that I can’t forget, may you rest in peace father bobo,,, we missed the good and happy memories you shared to us,,, ROCKZ,,,

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  12. September 2016 @ 7:28 am Fr. Caloy S.

    Fr. Bobo is a simple priest with a single purpose of just doing what the High Priest is asking him to do in his best stance. Be with Jesus!

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    • September 2016 @ 3:17 pm Luz Marilag

      Thank you so much Fr. Caloy for sharing your thoughts for my brother in law Fr. Nelson Marilag. May GOD bless you always.

      Reply

  13. September 2016 @ 6:05 am Emerson Olayon

    May your kind heart, your gentle spirit and your good deeds will leave a lasting legacy to all the people you’ve touched here on Earth. Thank you for performing your priestly duties with vigor and obedience to our Heavenly Father. Farewell for now Father Bobo, and until we meet again. You’ll be greatly missed.

    Reply

  14. September 2016 @ 6:05 am annie cinco

    I am one of Father Marilag’s classmates in Highschool. We are very saddened of the news of his sudden death. Every year we always look forward to His homecoming. He always find time for us even of his very hectic schedule. yes he is very down to earth person, very humble, simple and compassionate. We will miss you Father Nelson. Rest in Peace.

    Reply

    • September 2016 @ 5:28 pm dong

      Also, i am one of Nelson Marilag’s classmate during our High school days.Aside of being a classmate, He was one of the best friend of our Group: LITTLE BUT TERRIBLE namely ( Jun Acosta, dong Mejorada, Nelson Marilag and Jose Medidas ).Indeed i am really sad upon knowing it.In behalf of our group, SURELY we will miss you buddy Father Nelson.

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      • September 2016 @ 8:52 pm Jun Acosta

        I have not seen Nelson since college. So saddened by his passing away. See him someday and the SMALL BUT TERRIBLE group will have a lot of catching to do. Let us surrender our lives now to Jesus our Saviour as we do not know how much time we have.

        My friend Nelson, you have been a blessing.

        Reply

  15. September 2016 @ 5:38 am Virgilio B. Abucejo

    He is my classmate in high school, he is like a brother to me and I was sad to know that he just passed away two days when my sister informed…he is a down to earth guy simple quite yet funny. May her Rest In Peace with our Lord Jesus Christ. FATHER NELSON I know your with Him now and pray for us the living…

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  16. September 2016 @ 4:16 am Marilou Sarmiento Legaspi

    Father Nelson is my kababata, kapitbahay, classmate may he rest in peace.

    Reply

  17. September 2016 @ 2:53 am Barbie martinez nituda

    Fr. Bobo is a co- celebrant during my wedding. Rest in peace father. I know my auntie chikoy will be misisng you a lot

    Reply

  18. September 2016 @ 1:09 am The CONTRADES Ohana

    Great to have him serve in Barrow. He will definitely be missed.

    Reply

  19. September 2016 @ 1:07 am + Ronnie B. Bolongaita

    I was shocked to read the news in my facebook account about Fr. Marilag’s demise. He is a friend and former colleague in the priesthood with Fr. Vincent Blanco. Its just that I defrocked from the ministry more than 10 years ago. Be that as it may, I pray that “BoBo’s” soul may rest in peace and share the heavenly joys with the Great Priest of All. Amen.

    Reply

  20. September 2016 @ 9:36 pm Allan

    You will be missed..

    Reply

  21. September 2016 @ 8:48 pm butch marilag palce

    I am butch marilag palce cousin of Fr. Nelson Marilag. I was so shocked and emotional as i read this news. But i know that he served his purpose and he is in the hands of our Creator. As we called him” KUYA” Fr. Bobo he is a simple and down to earth being who always remind us we can’t bring anything if we die except Faith. We will missed you KUYA Fr.Bobo you may rest in peace.

    Reply

  22. September 2016 @ 8:30 pm ann

    He is such a down to earth priest. We know him back when he was assigned here in saint anne parish. He is a good friend of to many people specially to those who are needy.

    Reply


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