Alaska Academy Upholds Faith

News: US News
by Trey Blanton  •  •  November 12, 2021   

'Catholic' in spirit if not name

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska ( - A highly-ranked Catholic academy in Alaska has been stripped of its Catholic name but retains its Catholic identity.

Abp. Andrew Bellisario and Mark Newcomb

Holy Rosary Academy (HRA) is assuring Church Militant it's continuing to teach a classical and Catholic education despite a decree from Abp. Andrew Bellisario of Anchorage-Juneau from two weeks ago that the school can no longer call itself "Catholic."

The remarks are in keeping with comments from the academy's headmaster, Mark Newcomb, who told Alaska Watchman, "We would not be able to attract and retain such talented and accomplished faculty as we do [if we were] under archdiocesan structures and the usual fixation on Common Core and other educational fads that characterize Catholic schools' offices in America today."

HRA was founded in 1987 by local Catholic parents in the then-Anchorage archdiocese as an independently operated academy serving children in grades K–12. Three previous archbishops — Francis Hurley, Roger Schwietz and Paul Etienne — each recognized the school as Catholic allowing Mass, reconciliation and adoration to be held on campus.

News Report: Prelate Targets School

Bellisario changed the status quo when Anchorage merged last year with his diocese in Juneau to become the archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau. Earlier this year, he began a campaign to gain control of the administration of HRA. The archbishop makes it appear he was concerned with the physical and spiritual well-being of the students, but insiders believe he had ulterior motives.

The sacking of the school's Catholic name is at odds with the school's history of excellence.

The publication, Must Read Alaska (MRA), reports that in March, according to the school: "Father Patrick Travers, vicar general of the archdiocese ... demands to have control of HRA's self-governance pursuant to his understanding of canon law. Board members' concerns over self-governance were dismissed by Fr. Travers on his assertion that board members are not canonists like himself."

The archbishop's October letter revealed his demands, including:

  • Approval of curriculum
  • Compliance with "ministry clearance policy"
  • Approval of teachers of religion
  • A permanently appointed archdiocesan representative on HRA's board
  • Compliance with archdiocesan policies for the prevention of child sexual abuse
  • Compliance with archdiocesan policy governing health and safety (which could potentially include mask and vaccine mandates)
  • Require the academy to obtain general liability insurance that would protect the archdiocese while also obligating HRA to hold the archdiocese harmless from any potential lawsuits directed towards HRA

MRA explains that from April to June, the school consulted with "canonists, all of whom affirm that a local ordinary's jurisdiction does not extend to health, hygiene, staffing and curriculum in a lay-run, self-governing association."

In August, the school related, "Archbishop Bellisario makes it clear that he believes he can and should control health, hygiene, curriculum and hiring at Holy Rosary Academy."

The sacking of the school's Catholic name is at odds with the school's history of excellence. Newcomb recently informed Church Militant of his school's sterling pedigree:

Holy Rosary Academy was named the top private high school in Alaska earlier this year. We've achieved that distinction using this classical and Catholic curriculum and no other, right? So we've got a great deal of success to show for this model, and the idea here is we want to preserve that.

The website analyses over 100 million reviews and collated data on survey responses and test scores from various government organizations to rate schools. HRA is ranked No. 1 Best Private High School in Alaska. The archdiocese-operated high school, Lumen Christi Catholic High School, is ranked No. 2 in the same category.

The fact that the school strongly embraces its Catholic identity and is so highly rated has left many Catholics wondering why it was suddenly stripped of its Catholic name.

The school is receiving support from Catholics across the country but is asking for more help.

HRA's Board of Trustees attempted to negotiate with the archdiocese. But on Oct. 21, Bellisario sent an ultimatum letter to the board demanding submission or else he would revoke the academy's Catholic status. The archdiocese made this letter public the following day.

In the letter, the archbishop claims, "I am not interested in controlling the personnel, curriculum or business matters of Holy Rosary Academy. But I am obligated to protect the interests of all of the People of God in this archdiocese, including those served by any Catholic school."


The Rosary rally on Oct. 22 in front of 
Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral

Parents whose children attend HRA organized a Rosary rally Oct. 22 in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral to show their devotion to Christ. Bellisario, however, did not relent.

The following Tuesday, the archbishop wrote a final letter declaring HRA's board didn't meet his "minimum standards" and had no choice but to "regrettably" remove recognition of the academy as a Catholic school.

Newcomb tells Church Militant he recognizes the archbishop's authority and will accept his decision. Newcomb, however, does not understand why the school cannot at least keep the sacraments on campus. He notes there are many secular institutions that have no Catholic status but are, nonetheless, allowed to have a Catholic chapel on campus for administering the sacraments.

The school is receiving support from Catholics across the country but is asking for more help through a GoFundMe account that HRA will use to purchase a new bus. The academy needs the bus to transport its students to a local church wherein they can live their Catholic faith and continue to receive the sacraments.

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