The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

God is his co-pilot

What’s it like to be a priest in the remote reaches of Alaska?

Meet one of them: a man whose commute from parish to parish involves something uplifting — air travel:

Father William Hanrahan was ordained a priest at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey in 1969. He served eight years in the Army National Guard and 28 years, active duty, in the United States Air Force. During that period, he was a chaplain at numerous bases in the U.S. and abroad. And for seven consecutive times, Father Hanrahan served in the distinguished, senior role as wing chaplain. He was based twice at Elemendorf Air Force Base, including a tour in 2001. At that time, as a full colonel, he was the highest ranking priest in the Air Force


priest-pic.jpgFather Hanrahan retired from the Air Force in 2005 and since has served as associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Seward. In addition, Father Hanrahan celebrates Mass and brings the sacraments to remote, archdiocesan parishes that are temporarily without a priest. Also, he serves on Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz’s College of Consulters. Father Hanrahan is incardinated in – or officially attached to – the Archdiocese of Newark.


What inspired you to become a priest?

Probably God. I used to make the mistake of answering that question, thinking that it was a call down here. The longer I’ve been at this, the longer I believe we don’t make those choices, he does. But I guess, the time I grew up in, the church had a different status, even if you weren’t Catholic – and this was on the East coast – or weren’t even church-going. .. most people treated clergy on the street with respect. There was a lot of awe around it.

What is the greatest joy in being a priest?

Celebrating the Mass – that’s the heart of it.

Who is your favorite saint or favorite devotion?

That would be St. Joe (Joseph). He was the quiet one that was unnoticed, but got things done. Devotional? I like the Stations of the Cross, because of course, what it addresses. I think it’s a very flexible devotional. You can do it very quickly if time is limited. And you can develop it. It offers so many opportunities to reflect on faith – everything from Simon of Syrene and helping others to Veronica’s courage. I’ve always been impressed with the idea of the image (of Christ) on her veil. I have kind of developed a devotional Stations of the Cross that involves the use of slides as well as meditations. I’ve used it in the parish here and on the road. In fact, I used it a couple of years ago in Soldotna when I was helping them out over there. They want me to come back and do it again. What I like about it (the Stations of the Cross) is it’s loaded with meditative, reflective possibilities. To put it simply, it’s wide-open, you can make it your own, you can do it rather quickly, if need be, and it’s part of the heart of our religion.

For more, including news about his flying and his dogs, visit the Catholic Anchor link.

Comments read comments(3)
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Edgar Schneider

posted March 1, 2010 at 8:24 am

As to the title, I believe (metaphorically speaking) that we are all flying single-seat aircraft. I would modify that motto to say that God is my air traffic controller. He will give me all the information that I need to reach my destination and land my plane safely. But, He will not fly my plane for me.

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Deacon Norb

posted March 2, 2010 at 7:48 am

I first found out about Colonel Hanrahan when he published an “op-ed” piece in the “Sky-Wrighter,” the weekly newspaper of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where he was then the ranking chaplain. Entitled “Render to Caesar. . .” it was a personal explanation why he found his ministry so fulfilling even though he continued to receive some heat from many well-intentioned Roman Catholics whose anti-war theology had caused to take an anti-military position.
In fact, I was so impressed with this article, I got his permission to use it in a handout for my Church History presentations that I am called upon to do at the parish level.
“Ad multos anos” Colonel !
—or as my Polish grandmother might have said “Stohl Laht” — May you live a hundred years!

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Katy Erin Walker Livingston

posted September 27, 2010 at 9:57 am

I am so happy to see that Father Hanrahan has retired and is doing well. He was a dear family friend and is thought of often. All of our prayers and love to him in his retirement time!
The Walker family,
Richard, Shannon, Tres, Katy Erin
from McGuire AFB New Jersey

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