A Brief History of Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The first Catholic Mass on Alaskan soil was celebrated by two priests doing survey work with a Spanish fleet. On Ascension Day, May 13, 1779, at Bucareli Bay (near Craig, Prince of Wales Island), Fr. Juan Riobo records: “I sang a Mass of Thanksgiving for the safe voyage…a little Indian girl was baptized.”
In 1872, Rome placed the Alaskan territory under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Victoria, BC, the closest Diocese. Bishop John Seghers of Victoria made his first visit to Alaska in 1873. He established St. Rose of Lima, the first Catholic Parish in Alaska, in Wrangell on May 3, 1879, just 100 years after the Spanish priests had been here. Fr. John Althoff, a Diocesan priest of the Victoria Diocese, was appointed Pastor, with missions in Sitka and Juneau.
There has been a continuous Catholic presence on this same block of Fifth Street since 1885, when Fr. John Althoff was assigned to pastor the growing mining community in the Silverbow Basin. Fr. Althoff’s little Church, built in 1886, was replaced in 1910 with the present structure. It became a Cathedral in 1951 when the Southern and Southeastern parts of the Vicariate of Alaska were split off to become the Diocese of Juneau.
When the Archdiocese of Anchorage was split off in 1966, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary continued as the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of Juneau, comprising Southeast Alaska from Yakutat down to the Canadian border.
In the city block bound by Fifth, Harris, Sixth and Gold Streets, you will find the Cathedral Church, Rectory/ Office, and Parish Hall and education center as well as the Crimont Business Center housing the Chancery Office and Catholic Community Service.
Are we the smallest cathedral in North America? No one is sure, but we think so! Small as we are though, we are a vibrant faith community. Come join us for Mass, or just stop by for a visit while you are in town. We would love to have you!