By AlaskaWatchman.com

The broader cultural war between traditional and progressive branches of Christianity is now playing out between an Alaska archbishop and a small conservative Catholic school in Anchorage.

Younger students from Holy Rosary Academy perform during a concert in Anchorage.

Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, who oversees the Catholic Church across Southcentral and Southeast Alaska, is threatening to break religious ties with Holy Rosary Academy, an independent K-12th grade Catholic school in Midtown Anchorage.

Founded by parents in 1987, Holy Rosary is nationally recognized by multiple Catholic accrediting societies, and regularly acknowledged as one of the top independent Catholic schools in the nation. It is also well known for promoting traditional Catholic faith and morals while providing a rigorous classics-based education, rooted in Greek, Latin, church history and the Western cannon.

Approximately 150 students attend the school, which historically attracts students from myriad faith traditions. Families are typically drawn to Holy Rosary’s strong academics and traditional religious values.

Archbishop Andrew Bellisario at his 2019 installation as archbishop of the Anchorage-Juneau Archdiocese.

Each class begins with prayer and students study religion daily. On the first Friday of each month, they adore the Lord in the school’s chapel, and during Lent students pray the traditional Stations of the Cross as a class.

In accordance with church law, however, the local archbishop has authority to determine which institutions are officially considered “Catholic” in his archdiocese. Bellisario’s three previous predecessors all recognized Holy Rosary as a Catholic school in good standing. They allowed local priests to celebrate Mass, teach classes, hear confessions and provide spiritual care and support for children and staff.

That may all change on Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. if the school does not acquiesce to a litany of stipulations from Bellisario who was appointed archbishop of the Anchorage-Juneau Archdiocese in 2019.

Students leave Holy Rosary Academy after classes on Oct. 21.

If Bellisario follows through with his threat, priests could be barred from ministering to children at the school. That means no celebration of Holy Communion or any other sacraments on campus, except for emergencies. It would also entail removing the Body of Christ from the school’s small chapel.

“This is a bewildering and disheartening situation for all of us,” the school board stated in an Oct. 21 letter to parents.

According to the letter, Bellisario wants control over all staffing, curriculum decisions, business operations, health and safety protocols and approval of guest speakers and presentations.

“We are saddened to have to write and let you know that, for the first time since the founding of Holy Rosary Academy in 1987, the local bishop has indicated that he may rescind recognition of HRA as a Catholic school in our archdiocese,” the letter states.

Holy Rosary Academy students take part in a graduation ceremony in this undated photo.

The letter to parents expressed frustration that Bellisario is threatening the school’s Catholic identity without first visiting Holy Rosary or talking to faculty, staff, alumni, benefactors, students or families to “assess how deep our Catholic identity runs at HRA.”

Holy Rosary’s board is deeply concerned about Bellisario’s intent to take absolute control over the classical curriculum, which employs the Trivium, a traditional course of study that follows the historic academic practice of developing memory (grammar), sound reasoning (logic) and communication skills (rhetoric).

Board Chairman Sam Wolfe said it is critical to preserve this method, and to do so the school must maintain its independence to recruit teachers, staff and board members who share this vision.

Headmaster Mark Newcomb agreed.

Holy Rosary Headmaster Dr. Mark Newcomb

“Holy Rosary Academy was recently named the top private high school in Alaska by USA Today and Niche. We did not obtain that accolade by following any curriculum other than the one we have cultivated and refined for many years now, as a classical and Catholic institution,” he said. “We would not be able to attract and retain such talented and accomplished faculty as we do under archdiocesan structures and the usual fixation on Common Core and other educational fads that characterize Catholic schools’ offices in America today.”

When asked if he thinks Bellisario’s threats are part of a larger problem playing out across the church and wider culture, Newcomb said it was “hard to see it in any other light.”

“There are independent Catholic schools in America that are not officially recognized as ‘Catholic’ by the local (bishop), but that are allowed to have the sacraments on campus, so this does have the look and feel of something gratuitous,” he said. “As a parent asked me recently, ‘Who stoops to weaponize sacraments?’ I wish I had a consoling answer to offer her.”

Newcomb noted that a number of self-proclaimed Catholic politicians across the nation openly flaunt church teaching by promoting abortion, yet still receive Communion at Mass.

“Are our students less Catholic than national pro-abortion politicians?” he asked. “Five minutes of conversation with even our kindergarten class would set the record straight on that score.”

Wolfe said there has been long-standing tension between the archdiocese and Holy Rosary.

“I can’t tell you what’s at the heart of the archbishop,” he said. “In the past, there has been some feeling that we are competition for the archdiocesan schools. I don’t know how much that is playing into the current mix.”

He also noted that there may be an ideological difference.

“We are teaching orthodox Catholicism and not any type of modern or new theology,” Wolfe said. “I know there is a certain kind of concerted effort to stamp that out and we can see that going on across the country or even the world.”

Wolfe said families who send their kids to Holy Rosary – including non-Catholics – are drawn by the school’s firm commitment to its core values.

“We attract a certain kind of family and it’s all about those traditional values,” he said. “Even families that are not Catholic still hold the same kind of traditional American values and see the benefit of the education.”

On Oct. 21, the school held a townhall gathering with parents to discuss Holy Rosary’s future. Wolfe recalled that one non-Catholic parent gave an impassioned statement urging the school to stand firm in a world that is awash in uncertainty and confusion.

“She described Holy Rosary as a refuge,” Wolfe said. “And she just implored us to not let this refuge be taken away or breached.”

The letter to Holy Rosary parents explained that the school has tried in vain for months to negotiate with Bellisario and find common ground.

If Bellisario follows through with his threat, it will not affect the school’s accreditation, curriculum, or the regular academic operations, the board said. “Our mission, identity, and commitment to serving Catholic families and forming Catholic students will remain unchanged.”

TAKING ACTION

Holy Rosary parents are organizing a rally for Friday, Oct. 22, at 5 p.m. outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral (3900 Wisconsin Street) in Anchorage to protest Archbishop Bellisario’s threat to remove the school’s Catholic identity.

“It is clear that our school needs us parents to step up to help our school and the students retain their access to the holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Sacraments,” a notice for the protest states.

The rally will include “prayerful, respectful action,” and prayer through all 20 decades of the Rosary.

Bishop Bellisario will likely get a firsthand experience of the rally, which begins at 5 p.m. and ends just before he celebrates a special liturgy for incoming deacons at the cathedral that night.

Click here to support Alaska Watchman reporting.

Alaska archbishop threatens ‘Catholic’ identity of Anchorage school

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 20 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.


37 Comments

  • Tamra+Nygaard says:

    Bellisario cannot stand the fact that there are Catholics who actually worship the Lord instead of him. He uses his power to punish good and faithful Catholics because a faithful Catholic knows that he is not one of them.

  • Laux John says:

    Since when is it the place of the laity to question the motives of an Arch Bishop? Wolfe and others seem to be bordering on sacrilege, based on the traditional conservative upbringing and education I received at St Andrew’s, confirmed under the late Arch Bishop Hurley. I would recommend Wolfe and others seek penance.

    • Lowly+Commoner says:

      since always

    • Tamra+Nygaard says:

      Perhaps if Bellisario was, in fact, Catholic. But he is not. He is drunk with power, and can’t stand that the laity do not worship him. His “canonist” is nothing of the sort, nor does he adhere to Canon Law or God’s. This is a travesty, screaming for relief. Pray for HRA.

      • Dr Science says:

        I didn’t realize that Pope Francis granted you the power to decide who was Catholic. Must be a heavy burden. How do you keep from getting drunk with power?

      • Tamra+Nygaard says:

        I believe Pope Francis is too busy discussing climate change and asking the US to give up its own borders so that illegals can overrun the country. I doubt he spends too much time worrying about us laity, except of course unless we are divorced, remarried, and want to receive Holy Communion. Then he’s all in.

      • DoneWithIt says:

        Tamra – thank you so much for speaking the truth.
        Pope John Paul is rolling in his grave watching these liberation theologists and neo-malthuysian marxist types destroy traditional Catholicism.

      • John Laux says:

        People have been burnt at stakes for less blasphemous comments than this one… I’ll pray for you.

      • Tamra+Nygaard says:

        Blasphemy is against the Lord, not against corrupt prelates. We do not worship men, nor princes, but only Our Lord. Thanks for the prayers, but they might be better spent on praying for a truly Catholic heirarchy.

      • Matt+Myers says:

        Amen. When a Bishop obviously steps outside the bounds of rationality and justice in such a public way, to not show righteous anger is the larger sacrilege.
        It would do well to keep the comments aimed at his unjust actions, of which there are legion, but saying that criticizing hierarchy that demands criticism is sacrilege?
        Poppycock.

    • Adrian says:

      “Since when is it the place of the laity to question the motives of an Archbishop?”
      Perhaps you have been living under a rock for the last 30 years, having thereby never heard the name “McCarrick.” Of course the laity is allowed to question motives. Actually, the Bishop’s actions should *always* be transparent, thereby preempting the need to question motives.
      When a large number of Catholics in good standing think something is up, there is a very good chance something is up.
      >>>1Ti 5:19 ~~Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.<<<
      There is nothing in Scripture or Tradition that states or implies a bishop is above correction. The whole of salvation history in fact states and shows the opposite. The persons named in the article are expressing valid concerns in accordance with CIC Can. 212

      §2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

      §3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

      Then there is Canon Law,

    • Amber says:

      It is a very, very dangerous theology which holds that bishops are accountable to no one and are holy law unto themselves. There is nothing Biblical about such a teaching, nor does it comport with orthodox Catholic doctrine. When leaders scoff at the teachings of scripture, they must be called to account, and if their superiors have fallen to the same heresies, the laity must take up the task. Truth does not change at the whim of a bishop or even a pope.

    • Tiffany Borges says:

      And you recommend that from what position, precisely?

      The Bishop is not a king and the faithful are not his hostages.

      • John Laux says:

        And catholicism is not a democracy, and your opinion does not reign Supreme just because you outnumber the archbishop… funny you all would abide by the hierarchy of the church only when it falls in line with your own systems of beliefs.

    • John Laux says:

      Note I never said “question the archbishop.” I was very specific to note questioning one’s motives; funny how so many of you responders overlooked this clear distinction.

      • Matt+Myers says:

        His motives are fairly clear. Recent controversy led him to censure a fake Catholic hospital (that does abortions and suggests artificial contraception like there is a tax deduction in it) in no such way. No likely censure is expected. Ever.
        He ignores (and therefore tacitly endorses given comparison with his attacks on conservative Catholics and institutions, which are legion) the egregious destructiveness of liberals. He attacks those that uphold tradition and orthodoxy. I cannot reasonably intuit any other motivation that fits the evidence, which again is legion.
        In the face of destructive injustice and essentially (as Saul was so accused) is in a bloodless attack, persecuting Christ by weaponizing the Sacraments against good kids.
        To stay silent and hide righteous anger would be the sacrilege, if any. We should just seek to keep it about his unjust action and steer away from ad hominem.

    • Sharon Alice Turner says:

      Dear John: This Archbishop has ignored his own tenets by allowing Murkowski and other pro abortion people to receive Holy Communion. How is that in line with Catholic teaching? Know that ‘men come and go.’ But God says “I am the Lord your God, I change not.” that his word is eternal. Praying for Holy Rosary School, which, will thrive even more if torn from the bosom of the Church.

  • Michael+Lindbeck says:

    Pharisees would have said the same if Jesus: who is he to question our authority?

  • Proud Alaskan says:

    Even the churches are trying to control you.
    I say yes, parents stand your ground.

  • Theresa says:

    Well, Canon Law sets limits to the legitimate authority of a bishop or Archbishop.
    HRA is asserting that what the Archbishop is asking for does not lie within the scope of his legitimate authority.
    If that is true, then they are not bound by obedience to acquiesce to his demands.

    • Sharon Alice Turner says:

      Thank you! Notice how quickly this Archbishop is ‘going woke’, going with the times? When Holy Rosary graduates the finest students in the USA. God sees all. And this MAN” as will we all.. be judged in his own time. I always refer to allowing the powerful, pro abortion on demand, very wealthy, and well funded by Planned Parenthood Senator, Lisa Murkowski being given communion. What would Father Pavone say?

  • Gerianne T says:

    The article doesn’t share any information about the archbishop’s motivation for challenging HRA. Did he refuse to provide a statement or was he not asked? What do the other archdiocesan schools think about what is happening?

    • Tamra+Nygaard says:

      HRA is independent, not an Archdiocesan school. That is what he object to, along with the fact that Mass is offered there by the Dominicans, who offer the Dominican Rite in Latin. This is a blatant way of trying to get to the Dominicans whom he cannot attack directly, because they are not under his control. They serve here at the pleasure of the Archbishop, but they answer only to their Order. And they teach Truth, not the watered down pap he prefers.

    • Sharon Alice Turner says:

      Motivation? Goes to his state of mind and private agenda. That is between him and God.

  • Aliy says:

    This article fails to explain the heart of the issue. Why does the archbishop want control over the school operations? What exact are they teaching that he doesn’t agree with? Does it go against current Catholic practice? If so, he is justified.

    • HRA parent says:

      The article does make clear that the school administration does not have the answers to those questions. There’s a link to the October 21 letter to parents which describes the situation as “bewildering.”

      In the simplest terms, it appears there’s a difference of interpretation of canon law between Fr. Pat Travers and the two canonists consulted by HRA.

      Most people see the threat of losing the name “Catholic” and losing Christ’s Presence on campus as a punishment for some crime committed, which is not the case, but it does point to the brutal nature of the threat.

      The threat appears to be, simply, do x, y, and z, or you lose the name Catholic and the benefit of the Sacraments on your campus.

      The letter from the HRA admin to parents points out that they have not changed course or policy, but that the Archbishop is now, seemingly inexplicably, asking for some things outside of his legitimate authority under canon law.

  • Rzeszut says:

    I did not see a response from the Archdiocese mentioned in this article. Had they been afforded the opportunity to respond in this article?

  • Marcy says:

    This is not really any different than the policy that has been implemented across the entire Archdiocese for every Parish.

    • Theresa says:

      But HRA isn’t a parish, it is an independent school.

      • Faith seeking Truth says:

        An independent school that operates in the Archdiocese of AJ. Are parents aware of what the requests being made are, for how long they have been in request and the reasons why? Did the parents know this has been going on for months? If they did not know, why has the board not been sharing this information?

    • Matt+Myers says:

      It IS different. He has much more control over parishes to water down orthodoxy and tradition. Against those that uphold it, he attacks in any way that he can.

  • ck says:

    Same Pharisetical legalism as what is being “mandated: by DC.

  • Loren+Jensen says:

    Pray for Abp. Bellisario. He is clearly afraid of the zeitgeist (Francis’ word, not mine) that whispers “it’s not fair” when an institution is overtly and traditionally Catholic while “intruding” into the public space. Lord have mercy on us all.
    Loren ✞

  • Dick Armstrong says:

    I sincerely hope that the HRA BOD remains firm on not giving up control over the school that has been so successful run. The teachers and administrative staff do so much with so little, and are apparently willing to carry on their excellent work, so it would be a shame to relinquish control over the employees and operations of the School. It is obvious from hearing the parents at the open house speak so passionately about the fine job that HRA has done with educating their children. I will continue to support HRA as long as they remain independent and continue to do such fine work.

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