Making the world a kinder place

By Katy Beedle-Rice
Spring 2015 Alaska Catholic magazine

Debbie and Dick Fagnant IMG_5689

Debbie and Dick Fagnant

Dick and Debbie Fagnant of Juneau have some pretty fun wedding stories. For one, the bride wore green, and she and her gray-polyester-clad groom were both on hand to greet the guests as they arrived for the wedding Mass. Debbie remembers, “Walking down the aisle and seeing each other for the first time wasn’t the focus. It was the two of us greeting all of these people we loved and who had come to celebrate with us, and recognizing that they had been and would continue to be a part of our lives.”

The symbolism of enfolding family and friends into their lives has traveled with the couple ever since. Now approaching nearly four decades of marriage, they continue to live that message as leaders of the Family-to-Family program, helping families deal with mental illness.

“What has been found is that people with mental illness are the most successful in a recovery situation when they have family members who can support them.” Dick says. “If that isn’t in place, there is a much higher failure rate. People end up on the street, in jails, or in desperate situations.”

‘Ruined for Life’

Recalling their wedding day after 37 years of married life, Debbie has a word that comes to mind, “We were just sort of alternative.” Dick agrees with a chuckle, “That’s well-stated.”

Debbie Fagnant June 1976

Debbie Fagnant teaching in 1976 at St. Mary’s in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Not surprisingly, their unique relationship began in a similarly “alternative” movement, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Dick explains, “In JVC there’s a saying, ‘You’re ruined for life.’ You realize that living a more simplistic life can bring you happiness. That service is important.” Debbie continues: “That you can think outside of yourself. That faith is a cornerstone of your life. And community. Those are the four principles of JVC (faith, simplicity, social justice, community). What the JVC did was, they named it, and once they named it, we claimed it.”

Serving as Jesuit Volunteers in the 1970s in St. Mary’s, a village in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Dick and Debbie both worked as teachers as part of the JVC group that staffed the St. Mary’s Mission. Dick was a teacher for the Mission, which acted as a boarding school for surrounding high school students. Debbie taught in the local elementary school. Their time in St. Mary’s (three years for Debbie, and two for Dick, who took a year in the middle to earn his teaching credentials in Anchorage) seemed to set the trajectory for their marriage.

“Debbie and I look back at our St. Mary’s experience, particularly at the Yupik culture, (and) a piece of our heart is still there,” Dick explains. Debbie adds, “I think it’s where we really fell in love with teaching. There was an expectation, and we were happy with it, that we weren’t just work-hours teachers. It was a very small community and we were part of the community and we were welcome in everyone’s home and appreciated. We remember all the names of those kids that we taught. It was a wonderful time.”

From JVC to Juneau

Since leaving St. Mary’s in 1977 and getting married, the Fagnants have settled in Juneau, raised three children and fostered a niece, and put in a combined 65 years of teaching in the Juneau School District. Now, in their retirement, Debbie and Dick have found a new ministry to focus on: volunteering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Cherishing our common heritage

By Bishop Edward J. Burns – April 2015 Southeast Alaska Catholic

This month on April 4th Catholics and Protestants solemnly celebrated Easter, the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Orthodox Christians, who determine the date of Easter differently, celebrated Easter a week later, on April 12th.) For all Christians, the three days of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are at once a commemoration of a historical event and a lived, mystical participation in the events of Jesus’s Last Supper, passion and death, his burial and resurrection from the dead.

These days, and especially the Lord’s resurrection, are at the very heart of our faith. We believe that by suffering and dying on the cross and being raised from the dead on the third day, Jesus has overcome the power of sin and death forever. Moreover, all humanity are now able to share in the salvation won for us by his passion, death and resurrection.

Christians are called to imitate his example of compassion, mercy, forgiveness and non-violence as he walked the road to Golgotha and then suffered death.

At the celebration of the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral and in every Catholic community in this Diocese and around the world, we heard proclaimed the account of the deliverance of the people of Israel at the Red Sea as they passed from slavery in Egypt to freedom. It was a vivid and happy reminder of how at Passover each year the Jewish people come together to celebrate the great events of their deliverance from bondage and of the eternal and enduring covenant between God and Israel.

This year the first night of Passover coincided with Good Friday. The proximity of these two celebrations is both a reminder of our unique relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people and sadly, of the oftentimes difficult and tragic history of the Jews in Christian Europe. In past centuries Holy Week and especially Good Friday were occasioned by outbursts of violence and persecution by some Catholics and other Christians against their Jewish neighbors. Historically, too many Christians blamed the Jewish people for the crucifixion of Jesus and believed that they were rejected by God and deserved exile and persecution.

Fortunately, fifty years ago, at the Second Vatican Council, a new relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people was established based on respect, dialogue and repentance. This new beginning occurred in the shadow of the memory of the persecution and massacre of the Jews of Europe by the Nazis before and during the Second World War.

The Council document “Nostre Aetete,” was adopted on October 28th, 1965. After celebrating the unique relationship that exists between Christianity and Judaism and the “great spiritual patrimony” common to both faiths, the Council Fathers declared that the hateful idea that the Jewish people were somehow responsible for the death of Jesus or that they were rejected or accursed was contrary to the truth of the Gospel, the message and spirit of Jesus, and Church teaching. In this ground-breaking document they unequivocally condemned anti-Semitism, all forms of discrimination and the teaching of contempt.

Noting that, “Since Christians and Jews have such a common spiritual heritage, this sacred Council wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation. This can be obtained, especially, by way of biblical and theological inquiry and through friendly discussions.”

In the past fifty years great progress has been made in establishing a new relationship of dialogue and friendship between Jews and Christians on the institutional, scholarly and personal level. This has required, on the part of Christians and their leaders acknowledging and taking responsibility for an often-times shameful and tragic history, made difficult at times by the different ways in which that history is perceived and understood.

Of particular importance have been the remarkable encounters since 1965 between the Popes and Jewish religious and secular leaders. One of the most notable of these was the visit of Pope John Paul II to the synagogue of Rome in 1986 in which he spoke of the Jewish people as “our elder brothers in faith.” In 2000 while visiting Jerusalem, he put a written prayer in the Western Wall, and expressed in the name of the Church, profound contrition for all of the wrongs done to Jews by Christians. His prayer concluded in these words, “Asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”

As Christians and Jews celebrate during this month God’s mighty deeds of deliverance, redemption and freedom, may we continue to live in the truth, cherish our common heritage and work together to promote justice, charity and mutual understanding.

Fr. Peter Gorges nominated for Lumen Christi Award

2015 LUMEN CHRISTI AWARD NOMINEELumini-Christi-Award-Nominee-860x280

Modeling faith in action, Catholics from Alaska to the Gulf Coast are reaching out to make a difference in their communities. Since 1978, Catholic Extension has been honoring these faithful servants with the Lumen Christi Award. Accompanied by a $50,000 grant ($25,000 for the honoree and $25,000 for the nominating diocese), the Lumen Christi Award is presented to an individual or group of people who have demonstrated how the power of faith can transform lives and society.

This year, the Diocese of Juneau has nominated Fr. Peter Gorges for the Lumen Christi Award. Show your support by casting your vote for Fr. Peter online on the Catholic Extension Website:
Vote for Fr. Peter Gorges!

Read on for more information about Fr. Peter and his life and ministry in the Alaska:

Father Gorges was ordained priest in Boston, for the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, on May 29. 1968. He has been pastor in most of the parishes in the diocese from 1969 to 2001. During that time, he not only attended to parish needs, he regularly visited remote villages and logging fr peter gorges w shadow

camps by ferry and float planes. Over the years, he has been very involved in state, national & international Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and local ecumenical programs. He also ministered to children in Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Wrangell Institute boarding school, and the Mt. Edgecombe boarding school in Sitka. He has been everything from Vicar General to missionary. Because Alaska has such a small population, Father Gorges has provided a wide range of services to both the civil and Church communities throughout the state—always bringing a “Jesus” presence in doing so.

Father Gorges retired from parochial ministry when he was 66 years of age in 2001. He has been a volunteer fill-in priest ever since. He is the only retired priest still present in the Juneau Diocese.


The Resurrection: Overcoming the invincible power of death through mercy and forgiveness

By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

Christ is Risen!
Indeed He is Truly Risen!

During Holy Week, I watched an interview with Fr. Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit priest and theologian at the University of Central America in El Salvador. ( Fr. Sobrino was the only surviving member of his community when, in November 1989, Salvadoran soldiers broke into the Jesuit residence and murdered the Jesuits, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter.

Asked about the resurrection and hope, Fr. Sobrino noted that Jesus died as an innocent victim of violence, that his death was not accidental but a deliberate attempt by the powers and principalities of this world and those who misguidedly serve them, to eliminate him and silence his message.

In that context, Jesus’ resurrection both defied and overcame the injustice and violence that killed him, but that is also the fate of the poor and powerless around the world. His resurrection is the hope and the assurance that the powerful and violent do not, in the end have the final word. Because Christ is risen, the poor and the victimized, despite assurance to the contrary, can’t be made to simply “disappear.”

I will be pondering this dimension of the hope and the resurrection particularly during this month. April 24th is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide. On that day in 1915 the political, religious and business leaders of the Armenian community in present-day Turkey and Syria were rounded up and executed as the Ottoman Empire began the systematic destruction of the Armenian and Assyrian Christian minority communities. It was the first genocide of the 20th century and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians and Assyrians. This horrific crime against humanity, which the present day Turkish government continues to deny, foreshadowed even greater and more terrible crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hitler and Stalin and their successors.

Commemorating this month’s anniversary of the Armenian genocide seems, on the face of it, to be an odd way to celebrate the joy of the Paschal season. But I wonder if this is because of our constant temptation to compartmentalize the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. Which is to say, I’m tempted to neatly divide the Paschal Mystery in two halves — before and after. Before is the tragic prelude, the suffering, broken Jesus, hanging dead on the Cross and buried. On the other side of the dividing line is the happy ending: the resurrection and the Risen Lord.

But that can’t be true: we believe that the death and resurrection of the Lord are inextricably bound up together into a single Paschal mystery. The passage or exodus of the Lord (and of humanity) from slavery to freedom and from death to life is the lens through which we contemplate and participate in all of the events of salvation history. The Paschal Mystery is how we understand the life of discipleship, the joys and sorrows of our contemporary world and of our own lives.11117259_10153229350978615_7172920180381720039_n

Thus, the death and resurrection of Jesus, whom the powerful and the violent could not, in the end, make disappear, is the hope and the vindication of the innocent and powerless victims of cruelty and injustice.

It is understandable that we seek to forget the memory of the Cross. Who wants to remember suffering and powerlessness, in the history of our own lives or in the lives of others? In the account by St. John the Evangelist of that appearance of Jesus to the fearful disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday, he recounts:

Downtown Cathedral’s future as ‘Mother Church’ for Diocese reconsidered

Cathedral smaller

The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in downtown Juneau was built in 1911, and though receiving modest updates over the years, still retains its original foundation, wood structure, and ‘turn of the century charm.’

By Mary Stone

Bishop Edward Burns gathered with members of the parish community and building consultants for a town hall meeting on April 6, 2015, in Juneau to discuss a recent building consultant report to the Cathedral Renovation Steering Committee and the Diocese of Juneau, indicating that the existing downtown Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while structurally sound, is inadequate in both size and site to continue to serve as the Diocesan Cathedral. The current church was built in 1911, and designated as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Juneau in 1951.

Fr. Thomas Lucas, SJ, a leading international consultant on Catholic liturgy, church building and restoration, and who is currently serving as the superior of the Jesuit community at Seattle University, was on hand to make a presentation to the assembled group. Fr. Thomas Lucas was previously asked by MRV Architects, working with the Cathedral Renovation Steering Committee, to assess the needs of the current Cathedral structure and to make recommendations for improvement. Fr. Lucas presented his research findings earlier this year, concluding that the current structure of the downtown Cathedral, while beautiful, historic, and worthy of renovation, is inadequate for the specific needs associated with a diocesan cathedral. Upon hearing the report, Bishop Edward Burns felt compelled to bring this issue to parishioners of the diocese in the form of a town hall meeting and comment period, announcing the meeting in a letter to Diocese of Juneau parishes on March 31, 2015.

Fr. Lucas’s April 6 presentation outlined for those present the nine special needs and requirements of a Cathedral church: sufficient size and capacity for diocesan gatherings; large and flexible sanctuary; suitablity for complex liturgies; ability to facilitate assembly participation; ample gathering/procession space; adequate baptismal pool; adequate space and location for music ministry; meets ADA requirements and needs for amenities; and, has a central location within the community. Seating only 140, and with limited parking and amenities, the only requirement the current Cathedral meets is that of a central downtown location.

Fr. Lucas recommended to Bishop Burns and the Diocese that they ‘acknowledge the reality that is already in place’: St. Paul’s church in the valley is more suited to meet the needs of a cathedral, and is already fulfilling that role. St. Paul’s has the appropriate size and scale – seating over 400 comfortably, has ‘good bones’ structurally, excellent liturgical furnishings and art, is ADA accessible, has adequate amenities and ample parking. Its site, while in the Mendenhall valley, is only a short drive from downtown Juneau.

The comment period following Fr. Lucas’ presentation was a time for concerned parishioners to express to Bishop Burns the various implications of this important decision. Some of the 85 present — parishioners of both the Cathedral and St. Paul’s — shared concerns that the greatly needed downtown church restoration might be put on the ‘backburner’ if the Cathedral designation was changed to St. Paul’s. And, that the funds and fundraising needed for the downtown church restoration would be compromised by the need for renovation of St. Paul’s to make it more functional as a cathedral. Also, if the current arrangement of St. Paul’s hosting diocesan and community events is functional and facilitates interaction and cooperation between the two Juneau parishes, then a change may not necessarily be beneficial. The general sentiments of those present, including Bishop Burns, indicated that the historic downtown church held a special place in the community’s hearts and history, and that its restoration and continued status as an active parish was of high importance.

Fr. Pat Casey, OMI, Cathedral rector, expressed his appreciation for the helpful input provided at the meeting, and shared that Cathedral renovation plans would continue to move forward to address the needs of ADA accessibility and amenities, regardless of whether the church remained the diocesan cathedral or not. “We don’t want to focus on the chair,” he summarized, referring to the Bishop’s chair, or ‘cathedra,’ from which the word ‘cathedral’ is derived.

The town hall presentation and discussion can be viewed via the internet at:

Bishop Burns is accepting input and comment on this important decision for our diocese through the month of April. To share thoughts and concerns, email:
Or, mail written comment to:
Diocese of Juneau
415 6th St., Suite 300, Juneau, AK 99801

Bishop announces April 6 townhall meeting to discuss Cathedral status


The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Juneau, AK.

Bishop Edward J. Burns has announced a town hall meeting to be held on Monday, April 6th, 7:00 p.m. at the Cathedral parish hall in downtown Juneau. This meeting will also be livestreamed to the internet.

This town hall meeting will include Bishop Burns and Fr. Thomas Lucas, SJ — a liturgical and church building consultant from Seattle who has been assisting the Diocese and the Cathedral Renovation Steering Committee. Fr. Lucas will be presenting and discussing his recent liturgical evaluation of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and its suitability for continuing as the Cathedral of our Diocese.

This townhall meeting will livestreamed to the internet at the following link:


Following is the complete text of the letter from Bishop Burns:

March 31, 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings on this eve of the Easter Triduum.

I’m writing to share with you that Fr. Pat Casey and I, along with the Cathedral Renovation Steering Committee, have received the draft site report from MRV Architects on the condition of the Cathedral. In their report, the architects stated that the building is structurally sound and can be renovated.

As part of the site survey, MRV engaged a liturgical consultant, Fr. Thomas Lucas, SJ, a nationally renowned liturgist currently serving as the superior of the Jesuit community at Seattle University. After inspecting the church building, Fr. Lucas concluded that the present structure, even with extensive renovation would continue to be inadequate in size and as a site for cathedral and diocesan liturgies. He recommends that the diocesan leadership consider relocating the cathedral to a new or existing site in the greater Juneau area.

I have asked Fr. Lucas to travel here to present his liturgical evaluation of the Cathedral and his recommendations to parishioners of the Cathedral and St. Paul’s.

His presentation and the town hall meeting to follow are scheduled for this Monday, April 6th at 7:00 p.m. at the Cathedral parish hall. I apologize for the very short notice of this important meeting, but my travel schedule and Fr. Lucas’s availability require that our meeting take place the day after Easter if it is to happen at all in the coming month.

I urge you to attend Fr. Lucas’s presentation Monday as we continue to move forward as the Catholic community of Juneau.

May God bless you abundantly during this holiest season in the Church’s year of grace!

Yours in Christ,

Edward J. Burns
Bishop of Juneau