Cathedral History



      Official ground breaking ceremonies for the new church, the farthest north Cathedral, took place in May 1962. As described by the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, the building took "shape slowly according to available finances and the supply of volunteer labor." Fr. James Spils, S.J., called "God's builder" according to records of The Alaskan Shepherd archives, became construction superintendent. Fr. Spils' construction experience in the Diocese of Fairbanks spanned almost forty years. He was responsible for construction work at Holy Cross and other villages including two boarding schools. One was at Saint Mary and the other at Copper Valley School in Glennallen. For the new Cathedral building project, Fr. Spils brought with him his experienced work crew from Copper Valley School. One of these men was Mr. Aldor Rageotte, who had worked with Fr. Spils since 1954. Seminarians from "Outside" were also recruited for the building project.

      The most Reverend Francis Gleeson, S.J., conceived of the idea of a Cathedral of the North and, as the word cathedral implies, the chair of authority to unite the largest diocese, an area of about 409,849 square miles. It was Bishop Gleeson's wish that the new Cathedral be dedicated to the Sacred Heart. And, it was on the feast of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, June 17, 1966, that the dedication of the new cathedral took place. Though consecrated on June 17, the first Mass at the Cathedral was celebrated earlier on Palm Sunday, April 3, 1966. Bishop Gleeson was the main celebrant along with Rev. John Kelly, S.J., Jesuit Provincial, as homilist. During that Holy Week, and, at the Chrism Mass, the Bishop, for the first time in the history of Alaska, blessed the Holy Oils used in the administration of the Sacraments. Before that, Holy Oils were obtained from Seattle for use by priests and missionaries in Alaska during the year.

      Before the Cathedral was built and subsequently completed in 1966, Immaculate Conception Church served as Cathedral. Fr. Edmund Anable, S.J., was both Rector and Pastor. Fr. John Gurr, S.J., was appointed Rector of the Cathedral in 1967 and Fr. John McBride, S.J., Pastor of Immaculate Conception. In 1968, the Most Rev. Robert Whelan, S.J., became Pastor of Immaculate Conception and Rector of the Cathedral. On January 1, 1969, the Fairbanks parish was canonically divided into two separate entities: Sacred Heart Cathedral and Immaculate Conception Parish. Fr. Francis Mueller, S.J., was appointed Parish Administrator for Sacred Heart Cathedral. Fr. Francis McGuigan, S.J., became the Cathedral's first official Pastor on August 15, 1969. It was during his tenure that he nurtured the formation of a Parish Council. A few years earlier, and before the two Fairbanks parishes were canonically divided, the Parish Council had been elected from both parishes. That is, one advising body for two churches. It should be noted that Mr. Mike Kelly along with Mr. Robert Betz and Mr. Richard Greuel were some of the principal organizers of the first Parish Council. Mr. Greuel was its first elected President. In 1971, Fr. Joseph Grady, S.J., replaced Fr. McGuigan as Cathedral Pastor.

      Space will not allow listing all of the Rectors who served at the Cathedral since its founding 33 years ago. Suffice it to say, that the Society of Jesus members served the Cathedral community from 1966 until 1982, when diocesan priests took over the task. Frs. David Fitz-Patrick and Al Levitre became the first diocesan priests to serve as Co-Pastors. Fr. Fitz-Patrick became Cathedral Rector December 20, 1983 to be followed by Fr. Levitre, who was Rector there for more than a decade. On July 20, 1986, Mr. Paul Perreault became the first ordained deacon to serve the Sacred Heart Cathedral community. Fr. Edward Hartman served as Rector until 2007 when he retired and Bishop Donald Kettler became the Pastor, 2007-2013.

      The Cathedral celebrated its Silver Jubilee as a parish community June 9, 1991. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel, located in the southeast corner of the Cathedral, was remodeled in 1998 and a Mary Tree of Life was installed, thanks to parishioners' contributions.