Diocese of Fairbanks celebrates ordination, installation of bishop

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Bishop Steven J. Maekawa, pictured in an undated photo, is the new bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska. He was ordained a bishop and installed to head the diocese Oct. 12, 2023. Bishop Maekawa, a Dominican, is the former pastor of Holy Family Old Cathedral in Anchorage. (OSV News photo/David Schienle, courtesy Holy Family Cathedral)

(OSV News) — Archbishop Andrew E. Bellisario of Anchorage-Juneau Oct. 12 encouraged the new shepherd of Fairbanks, Alaska, to “be a bishop in motion, going to your people throughout this boundless land.”

Bishop Steven J. Maekawa, a Dominican, was ordained and installed as the seventh bishop of Fairbanks, a diocese that covers over 409,000 square miles of Alaska’s northern region, in a Mass celebrated in the Carlson Center, a 4,600-seat multipurpose arena in Fairbanks. Those who couldn’t attend could watch a livestream of the liturgy.

Archbishop Bellisario was the principal consecrator. Co-consecrators included Fairbanks’ sixth bishop, Bishop Chad W. Zielinski, who was appointed in July 2022 to head the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota; Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon; Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California; and retired Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage (the archdiocese was merged with the Juneau Diocese in 2020). Two cardinals also were co-consecrators: Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, and Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

“We’re gathered here in this place in prayer and celebration, filled with great joy knowing that Jesus deeply loves us,” Archbishop Bellisario said in remarks before the ordination rite. “We gaze with great faith and hope across the tundra, over the mountains toward the end of time when Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

“We are grateful to God and we are filled with great joy because God has given us a shepherd to lead, guide, govern, teach, sanctify, unify and love us,” he said.

The new bishop

On July 11, Pope Francis named then-Father Maekawa, pastor of Holy Family Old Cathedral Parish in Anchorage, to be the new bishop of Fairbanks.

A member of the Dominicans’ Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which is based in Oakland, he was ordained a priest May 29, 1998, at St. Augustine Church in Oakland.

Besides parish assignments, he has been director of the Newman Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, prior at St. Dominic Priory in San Francisco and director of vocations for his province.

He also has been a military chaplain. His assignments included serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve and being deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 with the 25th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.

Bishop Maekawa, who turns 56 Nov. 22, speaks English and Spanish.

Put out into the deep

In his remarks, Archbishop Bellisario noted the episcopal motto of the new Fairbanks bishop — “Duc in Altum,” which means “put out into the deep” and is drawn from Jesus’ words to Simon Peter about fishing as recounted in Luke 5:4 — were three Latin words that St. John Paul II heartily endorsed and “transmitted with renewed apostolic zeal.”

The motto “is most appropriate to our Alaska reality. You are a fisher of people, bringing them to the Lord and his church to become followers of Christ,” the archbishop said. “It expresses well your Dominican priesthood and heart, the heart of a preacher, evangelizer, an educator, in constant motion and prayer.”

“Be a bishop in motion, going to your people throughout this boundless land, on the trails, in the boats on the rivers and the sea, in the air, on the snow machines, and on the roads — where they exist — to the larger towns and the smaller, more remote villages where Alaska Natives have lived for millennia,” he said, adding that as bishop, he must go “always with great joy, with great love, with respect, offering the Lord’s presence in the sacraments.”

Ahead of the archbishop’s comments, Cardinal Pierre presented the official apostolic letter of appointment for the new Fairbanks bishop, but first thanked the faithful of the Fairbanks diocese for praying over the last year for their next shepherd, the successor to Bishop Zielinski.

Thank you for your ‘yes’

To Bishop-designate Maekawa, he said, “Thank you for your ‘yes,’ not only for your ‘yes’ to Pope Francis when he (named) you a bishop this year, but for your ‘yes’ more than 30 years ago when you responded to God’s call to enter formation with the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) and eventually to become a priest. Your ‘yes’ to God has taken you many places and has involved you in ministry of great variety.”

“May the example of your ‘yes’ to God inspire many others, including the young, to say a similar ‘yes’ to God’s invitation to follow him,” Cardinal Pierre added.

Before the closing prayer of the Mass, Bishop Maekawa addressed the congregation, saying he looked forward to getting to know the people of his new diocese “and working together for the Lord.”

He had a long list of people to thank, including his fellow Dominicans and other clergy, women religious and lay faithful he came to know during his many pastoral assignments. He also thanked the parishioners of Holy Family Old Cathedral Parish in Anchorage, many of whom had traveled to Fairbanks for his ordination and installation.

“(You) introduced me to the wonders of Alaska and helped me to fall in love with this great state. And thank you for your witness of faith and charity,” he said.

Bishop Maekawa thanked family members who were present: his two sisters and their husbands, his niece, his brother and his father. His mother was unable to attend in person but was watching the livestream of the Mass from Seattle, he explained.

He thanked his father for instilling “in me a great curiosity about the world, taking an interest in all that is around us” and for being a witness of “great virtues in word and deed.” His mother, a convert, “taught us to pray, (to) always turn to the Lord.”

He recalled that she would always say, “If you seek understanding, ask him. If you seek guidance to help others in need of help, ask him. But you have to trust in him.”

The fervent prayer of the people of the diocese for a new bishop reminded him again “of the power of prayer (and) how much we need to pray for one another, how much we can lift one person up by the gathering together of all our prayers,” Bishop Maekawa added. “Thank you for your faithfulness, your zeal.”

Julie Asher

Julie Asher is senior editor at OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @jlasher.