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Grow With Age

Francis Doyle Gleeson, SJ Bishop of Fairbanks 1962 – 1968 January 17, 1895 – April 30, 1983 Picture via The Alaskan Shepherd

Francis Doyle Gleeson, SJ
Bishop of Fairbanks 1962 – 1968
January 17, 1895 – April 30, 1983
Picture via The Alaskan Shepherd

While recuperating from a surgical operation in Fairbanks, Alaska, in September, 1976, I lived in the Bishop’s House. Next to my room, on the second level, resided the retired Bishop of the Fairbanks Diocese, Bishop Francis Doyle Gleeson, a Jesuit, then at the age of 80.

Every weekend he made his famous lasagna for all of us living in the House, with even himself doing the shopping for the necessary ingredients. When he finished, the kitchen looked as if a whirlwind had hit it, with flour all over the place, and pots and pans piled high on the counters. Although he didn’t say much, he made me feel his equal, treating me, a stranger, with a quiet graciousness.

A little chapel stood between his room and mine. A few steps out of my room brought me to this place of peace, just about the size of a bedroom, with its Tabernacle, altar, a few pews and the reddish glow of the sanctuary lamp.

For exercise, I walked a ten-mile round trip each day to the Fairbanks Airport, with a little lunch in its cafeteria to break up the ritual. One day, when in low spirits, I found a Catholic magazine in the Airport with an article on the Priesthood. The words, by an author whom I knew, lifted up my outlook on life. For this reason, I had always tried to keep lots of reading material in the Chapel at Midway Airport.

In those September days, walking along, meeting no one, gazing at the wide-open horizons stretching back to the mountains hundreds of miles away, delighting in the quietness and the briskness of the far northern Alaskan atmosphere, I received many exhilarating insights into life.   Cut off from family and friends, free of any responsibilities at the time, I had a chance to find a never before experienced attractiveness in God and His marvelous world of nature.

This brings us back to Bishop Gleeson, now deceased since 1983: the shopper extraordinaire, the man who kept on growing. I found him a man fully interested in all that was happening about him, serving others with his own lasagna recipe, going off at 6am every morning in -50 degree Fahrenheit to offer Mass for the Little Sisters of Jesus.

This slightly built man has influenced my thinking much in the years since 1976, serving as a model of the kind of person I would like to be.

Fr. George McKenna

September 13, 2015 - Posted by | Bulletins | , , , , ,


  1. Hope you are enjoying this beautiful late summer, Fr. McKenna. We celebrated our 45 years since graduation from Quigley South this weekend at the current St. Rita’s and your name was frequently mentioned in our reminiscences as we gathered for Mass and dinner and toured our old school.. Your freshman year spiritual formation and religion classes started us all on our way. Our graduating class of 130 eventually produced 18 ordained priests including one bishop, at least 3 lay deacons and many others who have continued to serve the Church as laity. We prayed for you and all our teachers, and thank God for what you have done for us. God bless you as you continue your work each week now 49 years after our freshman year.

    Quigley South Class of 1970

    Comment by LMK | September 13, 2015 | Reply

  2. Your stories are so good – I have all your books, but I love reading your blog. May God continue to grant you many more days on Earth so you can continue to share your stories.

    Comment by barttimm | September 13, 2015 | Reply

  3. Hi Fr. George! Sure do miss you! Glad to read this latest post – always so good to hear from you! I know that your time in Alaska made a great impression on you. Having visited you many times, that is probably what struck me about you the most – how YOU are so interested in everything! It does help us to stay clear, involved, and to grow as individuals. With all the senseless violence and tragedy in this world, I’m always so happy to settle in and read your beautiful blog posts! Thank you for all that you do for us, your followers! You have such a connection and such influence with so many people – When I flew out of MDW last month, I stopped up at the Midway Airport Chapel and reflected on how we met, your wonderful homilies and how much you’ve touched my life since 2008. I love you, dear friend!

    We are doing fine here – enjoying a change to cooler temps and some much needed rain. Planning on doing some fishing (finally! haven’t been out fishing yet this year!) and enjoying friends, pinochle club, and also taking an online Palliative Care course. Praying for you daily and hoping God Blesses you richly all of your days.


    Comment by Nancy Kolember Westvang | September 14, 2015 | Reply

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