Roughly four months after the Catholic Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau cut spiritual ties with a nationally acclaimed and award-winning, conservative independent Catholic school, Archbishop Andrew Bellisario has partially restored relations.
Last year, Bellisario demanded that the K-12th Holy Rosary Academy concede to him authority to hire and fire staff, control curriculum and make health and hygiene decisions, including when to shut the school down.
Founded 35 years ago by a group of homeschooling families, Holy Rosary is now a nationally acclaimed classics-based school that serves students from all faiths in the Anchorage area. It is widely regarded as one of Alaska’s most prestigious schools with graduates attending top-tier colleges and universities across the country.
Last October Holy Rosary’s board declined the archbishop’s demand that they give him control of the school. This prompted Bellisario and his Vicar General Fr. Pat Travers to insist that the school cease calling itself “Catholic.” The archdiocese also barred area priests from celebrating school Masses or providing any spiritual guidance for students or teachers on campus.
Last week, the archdiocese eased its hardline stance and is now allowing the school to maintain the Blessed Sacrament – what Catholics revere as the Body of Christ – in the school’s small chapel.
Principal Mark Newcomb emailed parents and supporters of Holy Rosary to let them know about the welcomed change.
“Dear Families of Holy Rosary Academy … it is with great joy that we share with you the glad tidings that Archbishop Bellisario has authorized the return of the Blessed Sacrament to our campus and our Chapel,” Newcomb wrote. “Late yesterday afternoon, Father Travers placed a host in our tabernacle that was consecrated by the archbishop. Please join us in thanksgiving and rejoicing for this positive turn of events. Please continue to pray for our relationship with the Archdiocese.”
The Watchman emailed Archbishop Bellisario, Vicar General Father Pat Travers and the archdiocese’s Chancellor John Harmon for comment. There was no response to questions about why the archdiocese changed its stance or how it will relate to Holy Rosary going forward.
While there has always been a measure of tension between Holy Rosary and the archdiocese, Bellisario’s three predecessors all recognized Holy Rosary as a Catholic school in good standing with the church and allowed it to maintain its unique identity for more than three decades. That included enjoying the presence of priests and Mass on campus, both of which are still being denied.
While the school has long fostered a deep Catholic devotion, including prayers before each class, weekly Mass and integration of the faith into every subject, it is also operated independent of the archdiocese. This means past bishops never demanded to take direct control over how the school operates, but chose to respect the fact that the school was founded, built, funded and developed by private Alaska citizens wishing to create a faith-based school rooted in a rigorous classical approach to education.
Parents are typically drawn to the school’s strong academics and emphasis on traditional religious and family values.
Holy Rosary is 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. Parents are typically drawn to the strong academics and emphasis on traditional religious and family values. Controversial topics such as critical race theory, LGBTQ politics and other issues plaguing many of Alaska’s public schools have no place at Holy Rosary.
Bellisario’s recent move to restore the Blessed Sacrament in the school is seen as a positive change by Holy Rosary supporters, but there is still no word on whether he will allow priests to celebrate Mass, teach or hear confessions.
The archbishop’s demands have placed the school in an awkward position since he has sole authority to determine whether an institution in his archdiocese can call itself Catholic and thereby have access to priests to serve the community.
Holy Rosary’s school board and leadership stated last October that they respect the archbishop and his legitimate spiritual authority, but they do not believe this extends to controlling virtually every area of an independent private school, including the demand that Bellisario be able to vet all visiting speakers or groups who work with the school and to “appoint or approve the teachers of religion,” while also reserving the right to remove them.
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Unlike other schools run by the archdiocese, Holy Rosary weaves religious teaching into every subject, which means every teacher is also a religious instructor and thus would be subject to being fired by Bellisario.
Last year, the school said it cannot agree to this level of control, while still upholding the charter of Holy Rosary as an independent institution.
Others from the school have expressed bewilderment that Bellisario would ban the sacraments from school children while continuing to allow high profile pro-abortion politicians like Sen. Lisa Murkowski to access Holy Communion in local parishes. Additionally, area Catholics have raised concern for decades about the fact that Providence Alaska Medical Center provides a litany of medical services that directly oppose the church’s moral teachings – including contraception, sterilization and cross-sex hormones for those who wish to appear as members of the opposite sex. Yet, Providence continues to enjoy the presence of priests who celebrate Masses throughout the week.
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