Pope Francis has named Dominican order priest Father Steven Maekawa as the next bishop of the vast Fairbanks Diocese in Northern Alaska.
Father Maekawa most recently served a pastor of Holy Family Old Cathedral in Anchorage, where he has been stationed since 2016.
His new appointment was announced on July 11 in Washington D.C. by the pope’s ambassador to the U.S.
“My appointment to be bishop of Fairbanks is as much an honor as it is a surprise,” Maekawa said during a press conference in Fairbanks. “My complete dependency on Gods grace to answer and fullfill this call cannot be overstated.”
Adding that he “cannot think of a more exciting place to serve our Lord Jesus and the church than here in the Diocese of Fairbanks and in this great state of Alaska,” Maekawa asked for prayers as he prepares for his new vocation as bishop of Fairbanks.
The 55-year-old Dominican will oversee the largest geographical Catholic Diocese in America, but also one of the smallest in terms of population. The Fairbanks Diocese encompasses 409,849 square miles with a total population of 164,025, of which 11,876 are Catholic. Many of the far-flung parishes are only accessible by plane or snow machine.
Maekawa is a decorated military chaplain, having served the Marines, Army and Navy. He was awarded a special medal in active duty for his work as a military chaplain, serving a tour of duty with ground troops in Afghanistan in 2004.
A beloved priest in Anchorage, Maekawa has a reputation as a devout and tireless priest. During his time overseeing Holy Family Old Cathedral in Anchorage, the parish has been known for reverent liturgies and traditional chant. He has also continued the practice of offering the old Dominican Rite liturgy, celebrated in Latin.
Born in 1967, Father Maekawa has a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a Master of Divinity. He took his profession of vows for the Dominicans, a religious order, in 1991, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 29, 1998, at St. Augustine Church in Oakland, California.
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Since then, Maekawa’s pastoral assignments include serving at St. Dominic Church in San Francisco, California, 1998-2002; directing the Newman Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, 2002-2005. He was also the prior at St. Dominic Priory in San Francisco from 2005 to 2007 and 2012 to 2016. From 2007 to 2015 he worked as director of vocations for the Western Dominican Province. Since 2016, he has served as pastor at Holy Family Old Cathedral in Anchorage.
Maekawa speaks English and Spanish.
In Fairbanks, he will succeed Bishop Chad Zielinski, whom Pope Francis assigned as the bishop of New Ulm, Minnesota, last year.
Fairbanks has 46 Catholic parishes, 37 of which can only be reached by plane. Some of these parishioners are only able to receive sacraments from a priest every two or three months with clergy traveling vast distances over difficult and remote terrain, and amid harsh weather.