Nestled in downtown Anchorage, between Holy Family Cathedral and the Holy Family Center, sits the newly completed rectory, a 10,000 square-foot structure designed to house the Dominican priests, brothers and seminarians who come to serve the people of Alaska. The new facility was dedicated by Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne on Feb. 23.
After nearly two years in planning and construction, the spacious rectory is a welcome addition to the historic cathedral’s campus, which comprises nearly a square block in the heart of the city. The previous rectory was decades old, long outgrown and ill-suited to present and future ministerial needs. The new structure features amenities which will serve the Dominican friars and associates for many years.
Intended to eventually house a permanent community of at least six Dominican friars, additional room is available for guests. Six is the minimum number of men required to establish a Dominican priory, a monastic community designed to facilitate the consecrated life of the friars who live within it. According to Dominican Father Steven Maekawa, pastor of Holy Family, the hope is to bring more resident Dominicans to Anchorage in the future.
A key feature of the new rectory is the chapel, complete with choir stalls.
“We sing the divine office in common,” Father Maekawa explained. “The chapel is a little bit of home and such a blessing.”
Other amenities include a library — a requirement for every Dominican community, Father Maekawa said. He noted that the old rectory was stacked with books and nowhere to shelve and properly catalog them.
The new facility also has an exercise room, complete with equipment and an elliptical trainer. Father Maekawa said it is a nice feature for the occupants, especially for those seeking physical and spiritual fitness in the cold, dark, Alaska winter.
Father Maekawa said the Dominicans are deeply grateful for the new building, and those who made it possible.
“We would never have asked for this,” he said.
While the Dominican friars were content to make do with the older structure, parishioners recognized the previous rectory lacked sufficient entrances and was not safe. They generously donated the bulk of new furnishings for the rectory, though care was taken to salvage and utilize what could be incorporated into the new digs. The construction cost of the building, approximately $4 million, was generously donated by Ed and Kathy Rasmuson, and Ed’s sister, Judy.
“It’s a really beautiful building, well designed,” Father Maekawa said.
The structure features the work of local craftspeople, talented carpenters and wood workers.
“The courtyard phase will begin in the spring,” Father Maekawa said.
It will feature heated walkways, a bronze statue of Mary, Our Lady of Grace, as well as four shrines to showcase the mysteries of the rosary.
“It’s going to be rather nice,” Father Maekawa added. “Its fundamental design is to draw people from the church into the courtyard.”
Joining Father Maekawa, and enjoying the amenities of their new home are parochial vicars, Father Pius Youn, Father Dominic David Maichrowicz, and Brother Columban Mary Hall. Since moving in four weeks ago, the Dominicans have been learning the features of the residence. Delighted to be reunited under one roof, after the demolition of the old rectory necessitated moving into apartments last Easter, they are especially enjoying the large, heated garages.
“It feels very luxurious,” Father Maekawa said, noting he has never lived in a new building, where most of the furnishings are new.
Discussions are underway to bring in a fourth priest and a pastoral residency student within the next year, according to Father Maekawa. The goal of reaching six friars in residence is one shared by the Dominican provincial, who has visited Alaska and sees the state as worthy of the order’s attention. Father Maekawa said the spacious quarters and accommodations for communal living are features that might be more attractive for Dominicans who get assigned to Alaska, some of whom have reservations about what service in the far north might entail.
Dominican friars began ministry at Holy Family Cathedral in 1974, at the invitation of then Anchorage Archbishop Joseph Ryan. Apart from running the cathedral, the Dominicans also help cover for other priests in the far-flung communities of Trapper Creek, Talkeetna and Glennallen. Father Dominic also helps in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Father Maekawa said.
It is the hope of the Dominican friars to expand this itinerant ministry and relieve some of the pressures on the priests of the expansive Anchorage archdiocese.
“We need a few more guys to come in who are close to their final vows,” Father Maekawa observed.
He added that the attraction of a safe, spacious residence, designed and furnished to facilitate the unique charism of Dominican spirituality, enhances the quality of life for the friars, and opens possibilities to expand the work of God in Alaska.
“The new rectory is such a tremendous gift,” Father Maekawa noted. “We can do more for the Lord, and for the Church.”