Pope Francis merged two dioceses in Alaska on Tuesday, creating the new Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau which will cover a territory larger than Montana.
The Pope appointed Bishop Andrew E. Bellisario as the metropolitan archbishop of the newly formed archdiocese in southern Alaska.
The diocese of Juneau, located on the Alaskan southeastern panhandle, is spread across 500 miles of islands, peninsulas, fjords, and glaciers, whereas Anchorage is a city home to 42 per cent of the population of Alaska.
Merged together, the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau will cover more than 175,000 square miles and a population of 560,000 people. The Vatican reports that the new diocese will have 55,000 Catholics, 34 diocesan priests, and 32 parishes, some of which are only accessible via plane or boat due to Alaska’s limited road systems.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, publicized the creation of the archdiocese in Washington, DC at noon Rome time on May 19. The Vatican confirmed the appointment of Bishop Bellisario more than an hour later.
Bishop Bellisario has served as Bishop of Juneau since July 2017. He was appointed apostolic administrator of Anchorage in June 2019, after Anchorage Archbishop Paul D. Etienne was named coadjutor archbishop of Seattle, Washington.
Bellisario, 63, was born near Los Angeles on December 19, 1956. He attended Saint Vincent Minor Seminary in Montebello from 1971 to 1975 before entering the Congregation of the Mission on August 14, 1975.
He studied philosophy at Saint Mary’s of the Barrens Seminary College in Perryville, Missouri from 1976 to 1980, and received his masters of divinity after studying at De Andreis Institute of Theology in Illinois from 1980 to 1984.
After being ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Mission on June 16, 1984, he served as Dean of Students at Saint Vincent for two years before serving as a priest at various parishes in Los Angeles County. Bellisario was also director of the DePaul Evangelization Center and a superior, and then provincial, of the DePaul Residence Center in California.
From 2003 to 2015 he served as director of the Daughters of Charity in Los Altos, before becoming Rector of the Co-Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage in 2014. He is a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, commonly known as the Vincentian Fathers.
The See of Juneau was established in 1951 from the territory from the former Apostolic Vicariate of Alaska. The See of Anchorage was canonically erected in 1966 out of territory belonging to the Diocese of Juneau.