Priest Profile: Pilot priest drawn to Station of the Cross

Father William Hanrahan

Fr. William Hanrahan 

Editor’s note: In conjunction with the Catholic Church’s worldwide celebration of the Year for Priests, the Anchor is publishing profiles of the priests serving in the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

Father William Hanrahan was ordained a priest at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey in 1969. He served eight years in the Army National Guard and 28 years, active duty, in the United States Air Force. During that period, he was a chaplain at numerous bases in the U.S. and abroad. And for seven consecutive times, Father Hanrahan served in the distinguished, senior role as wing chaplain. He was based twice at Elemendorf Air Force Base, including a tour in 2001. At that time, as a full colonel, he was the highest ranking priest in the Air Force

. Father Hanrahan retired from the Air Force in 2005 and since has served as associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Seward. In addition, Father Hanrahan celebrates Mass and brings the sacraments to remote, archdiocesan parishes that are temporarily without a priest. Also, he serves on Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz’s College of Consulters. Father Hanrahan is incardinated in – or officially attached to – the Archdiocese of Newark.


What inspired you to become a priest?


Probably God. I used to make the mistake of answering that question, thinking that it was a call down here. The longer I’ve been at this, the longer I believe we don’t make those choices, he does. But I guess, the time I grew up in, the church had a different status, even if you weren’t Catholic – and this was on the East coast – or weren’t even church-going. .. most people treated clergy on the street with respect. There was a lot of awe around it.


What is the greatest joy in being a priest?


Celebrating the Mass – that’s the heart of it.


Who is your favorite saint or favorite devotion?


That would be St. Joe (Joseph). He was the quiet one that was unnoticed, but got things done. Devotional? I like the Stations of the Cross, because of course, what it addresses. I think it’s a very flexible devotional. You can do it very quickly if time is limited. And you can develop it. It offers so many opportunities to reflect on faith – everything from Simon of Syrene and helping others to Veronica’s courage. I’ve always been impressed with the idea of the image (of Christ) on her veil. I have kind of developed a devotional Stations of the Cross that involves the use of slides as well as meditations. I’ve used it in the parish here and on the road. In fact, I used it a couple of years ago in Soldotna when I was helping them out over there. They want me to come back and do it again. What I like about it (the Stations of the Cross) is it’s loaded with meditative, reflective possibilities. To put it simply, it’s wide-open, you can make it your own, you can do it rather quickly, if need be, and it’s part of the heart of our religion.


What hobbies do you enjoy in your free time?


I had three goals in life: to become a priest, to get my pilot’s license, and to get a dog. I enjoy my home down here in Seward. I think it’s a great place to live. The environment itself lends itself to reflection. I do fly and I have an airplane down here. The archbishop flew with me when I was still active duty, when I had the plane up there (in Anchorage). I’ve got a little boat which probably I don’t use any more often than the big ones I get invited to in the summertime for fishing down here. I can’t think of a more idyllic place for a priest to be retired – not from the priesthood, don’t forget – just retired, than a place called Resurrection Bay. And I do have my dogs. I lost one last year. My other guy here is getting up there in age, but I’ve had German Shepherds now, four in a row, since my earliest days in the Air Force. One of my parishioners up at Elmendorf used to talk about the Germans, being my two dogs and their shepherd, meaning me.

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