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Diocese of Fairbanks installs new bishop, Fr. Steven Maekawa

The Diocese of Fairbanks ordained and installed its seventh bishop, Father Steven Maekawa Order of Preachers last week (Oct. 12).  

Hundreds of members of the Catholic church gathered at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks to welcome Father Maekawa as the diocese’s new bishop. The center was adorned with gold decor and a backdrop of Jesus Christ surrounded by angels for the celebration.

“Make me pleasing to you in the fulfillment of my duties, and so guide the hearts of people in pastoring that the obedience of the flock may never fail the shepherd nor the care of the shepherd be lacking for the flock.”

– Bishop Maekawa
The priests recognize the admission of Father Maekawa to Bishop. He is accepted into the College of Bishops. (Photo by David Schienle, used with permission).

He’s the first bishop the Diocese of Fairbanks has had in over a year.

Maekawa was announced the new Bishop of Fairbanks by Pope Francis in July  (July 11). He previously served as priest of the Dominican Province of the Holy Name of Jesus in California and as pastor of the Holy Family Old Cathedral in Anchorage for the last six years.

Maekawa succeeds Bishop Chad Zielinski, who served in Fairbanks for almost eight years. Zielinski relocated to Minnesota last September, where he serves as Bishop of the diocese of New Ulm.

Alaska has two dioceses, The Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau and The Diocese of Fairbanks. The Diocese of Fairbanks is made up of 46 parishes that expand throughout rural Alaska and serves a parish of nearly 12,000 people. 

Lala Hunt traveled to Fairbanks from Emmonak for the Bishop’s ordination. She and her husband, Deacon Dominic Hunt, serve as music ministers of the Emmonak Sacred Heart Catholic Church. 

Hunt said rural parishes are different from urban parishes because they have to minister to themselves.

“The priest numbers are very weak and have dwindled. So we’re having to lead Sunday services, do sacramental prep, funeral services, it entails a lot and we’re very few.”

She said the church is looking for ministers, but they can be hard to find in rural Alaska.

“We’re always looking for people who can step up and lead.”

Bishop Donald Kettler is a former bishop for the Diocese of Fairbanks and attended the ordination. He said when a diocese doesn’t have a bishop, especially for an extended period of time, they begin to struggle. 

“The bishops have to teach, they have to bring the sacraments, and they have to govern rule time. So those are the three things that they should do so when you don’t have one, it kind of flounders around a little bit.”

Kettler said he hopes the installation of a Dominican Bishop brings more ministers to the diocese. 

“I’m really hoping that maybe some of his confreres will come and help out here because we need help. We need more people.”

Bishop Maekawa says he looks forward to visiting parishes in the diocese to understand what it is like to be a church in rural Alaska. Right now, he’s in what he calls ‘learning mode.’

“I just have to go on experiences saying hello to people and start meeting people and having new experiences and I am really looking forward to that.”

So far, he said he’s visited several communities across the state including Bethel, Emmonak, Alakanuk, Galena, and Kaltag already.

Hundreds showed up in support of Maekawa. He thanked the community for their prayers, and said their prayers made a difference in his life. (Photo by David Schienle, used with permission).

Maekawa said that his leadership gives him the ability to connect with communities beyond Alaska. 

“We not only have brothers and sisters spread out throughout the diocese, the state of Alaska, North America, we have brothers and sisters around the world.”

For the meantime, Maekawa said he plans to formulate a deeper understanding of the Diocese of Fairbanks before making any changes. 

“I can’t make good decisions without first formulating and understanding. And people have been so gracious and offered the time, their insights, showing and sharing the community, sharing different experiences [with me].”

After the ordination, Maekawa spent hours meeting and praying for attendees. 

Photo at top: Maekawa beaming with pride after becoming the new bishop (Fr. Bart Hutcherson, used with permission).

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