Fr. Nelson Rivera Marilag, a missionary priest in the Diocese of Fairbanks, died suddenly on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, at the Saint Ignatius Residence. He was 55 years old.
During his time in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Fr. Nelson was assigned as a visiting priest to Immaculate Conception Parish, in Kalskag; Holy Family Church, in Holy Cross; St. Patrick Church, in Barrow; St. Theresa Church, in Aniak; and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, in Russian Mission. He was Parochial Vicar of St. Raphael Church and St. Mark's University Parish, in Fairbanks. He also assisted at Sacred Heart Cathedral and he served as the Chaplain for the Filipino Ministry and to the Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Credit: Joel Davidson / ALASKA NEWS, EDITOR'S PICKS, FEATURED / September 2016
Father Nelson Marilag died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sept. 20 while serving as a priest in the Diocese of Fairbanks.
A native of the Philippines, he served in the Archdiocese of Anchorage from the time of his arrival from the Diocese of Butuan in 2002, until 2010 when he transferred to serve in the Diocese of Fairbanks as part of an innovative program to share priests across Alaska's three Catholic dioceses.
Upon Father Marilag's death, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski issued a statement describing the priest as "a quiet and reserved man who exemplified a genuine gentleness of spirit, and a kindness and charity that knew no bounds. He fully embraced a true virtue of poverty as his room appeared to be that of a man who lived an ascetical life. May his living witness be a reminder to us all to embrace the simple life, show a deep care and concern for others through our generosity by serving the Body of Christ."
In a 2009 interview with the Catholic Anchor Father Marilag said he was initially spurred to become a priest by a former pastor who he said "really inspired me to serve the church."
His favorite saint was Saint Joseph who he said "bears the name of being a foster father of Jesus and a great worker, too. It is my confirmation name given by my parents."
While serving in the Anchorage Archdiocese, Father Marilag ministered to far-flung Catholic communities and missions. A native of the Philippines, he helped celebrate many colorful Catholic Filipino traditions in places like Unalaska along the Aleutian Islands.
Speaking on the unique aspects of being a priest in Alaska, Father Marilag said the remote places and inspiring people stand out.
"Aside from the resourcefulness of the people, there are various ways of culture that one will encounter in serving the church," he said in 2009. "There is much to learn and to adjust to, in so many ways. But with this, it gives a sense of courage to be more independent."
Father Marilag also served, as needed in other parishes across the archdiocese. One of his last assignments, before transferring to Fairbanks, was at St. Michael Church in Palmer, where he assisted Father Tom Brundage. There he worked in prison ministry, celebrating Masses for inmates and helping with an evening study group on Saint John Paul II's theological work on the human person, "Theology of the Body."
In 2010, due to an acute shortage of priests in Alaska, Father Marilag became the vanguard for a new program of sharing clergy across the boundaries of Alaska's three Catholic dioceses.
He willingly traveled to serve Catholics in Barrow — the northernmost city in the United States and part of the Diocese of Fairbanks. In Barrow, the Catholic population is about 80 percent Filipino, making the ministry of a Filipino priest all the more relevant for the community.
In a 2010 interview from Barrow, Father Nelson told the Catholic Anchor that he was happy to minister there, despite the fact that the thermometer had dipped below zero and the sun was hidden for most of the day.
But most unusual was his discovery of so many fellow countrymen, he said.
"I was surprised to find the large number of Filipinos," Father Nelson said, "and I could feel that sacramental need."
In just a couple of days in the remote village, he had performed a baptism with more than 100 people attending and celebrated two weekend Masses, which drew about 150 people.
Upon request he also blessed many objects, heard confessions and blessed family homes.
Father Marilag's final assignment began in 2015, when Fairbanks Bishop Zielinski appointed him parochial vicar of Saint Raphael Church in Fairbanks. At the time of his death he was also assigned as the visiting priest to parishes in Barrow, Holy Cross, Aniak and Kalskag.
There will be a vigil liturgy for Father Marilag on Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. and a funeral Mass on Saturday, Oct. 1, at 11 a.m. Both liturgies will be held at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Fairbanks.
A Memorial Service will be held in Anchorage at a place, date and time to be decided later.
Each year, the HIPOW Auction & Dinner raises a little over half of the Monroe Foundation's annual fundraising goal of $1.1 million.
Please mark your calendar for the 47th annual HIPOW on Friday, October 7 and Saturday, October 8. Friday is Family Night - it's free and open to the public. Saturday is a Black Tie Dinner.
HIPOW stands for Happiness is Paying Our Way.
Attendees are asked to register ahead of time to participate in mobile bidding. Mobile bidding is web-based (no app required). You are encouraged to bring your WiFi enabled phone, iPad or tablet. Don't have one? No problem. "Bidding Buddies" will be available to help you place your bids. Registration begins in August.
In response to the increasing violence and tension throughout our country and the world, Archbishop Kurtz and the Catholic Bishops of the United States have declared Friday, September 9th a National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities. In solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the United Sates, I ask that each parish pray in a special way for an end to violence and racism and that the Spirit of unity and peace would descend upon individuals and communities.
Attached you will find sample petitions that may be included in the Prayers of the Faithful. Additional material can be found on the USCCB website in the following locations:
World Youth Day celebration for Friday, July 29th: Any teens from the surrounding area are welcome to join us! The WYD celebration will take the form of an overnight lock-in at St Nicholas parish with a tentative start time of 7pm and an end time of 11am. The goal of the night is to create a mini WYD for the kids in the Fairbanks area who are not attending the celebration in Poland. Part of the night will include live-streaming events from WYD, games, Polish food, and prayer experiences (adoration, Divine Mercy chaplet, and Stations of the Cross). The target age range is late middle school through high school age teens (13+). Feel free to contact me at this email address if you are interested: Kayla Smith firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on my voicemail at the parish office: 907-488-2595.
St. Raphael invites all parishioners, past and present, to celebrate our 25th Anniversary Sunday, July 24th, Mass at 9:30 am followed by a picnic. Mass will be concelebrated by Fr. Jim Kolb, Fr. Pat Bergquist, Fr. Ross Tozzi, Fr. Kaspar Mallavarpu and Fr. Nelson Marilag. (Meat provided by parish: A-L bring side dishes; M-Z bring desserts; Bring chairs or blankets for seating) For more information contact Parish Office: 457-6603."
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked Catholics across the country to pray and fast two weeks prior to July 4. I want to reflect on this “Fortnight for Freedom” through historical and religious lenses. The two week event is intended to increase our awareness of the religious liberties the Constitution and our founders handed down to us. It also alerts us to challenges to these liberties here in our country and abroad.
Tellingly for Catholics, Fortnight for Freedom begins on June 22, the Feast Day of Saints John Fischer and Thomas More. Thomas More’s story struck popular imagination with the movie, A Man for All Seasons. His faith and integrity as he faced opposition from the crown has inspired so many of us who have seen the film. Accused of and tried for treason, Henry VIII ordered his beheading at the Tower of London on July 6, 1535.
When I was an Active Duty Air Force Chaplain, I was stationed in England and decided to visit the Tower of London with a priest friend of mine, Fr. Arturo Martinez, who was on break from graduate school in Rome. So, one rainy day in December 2004, we ventured to the Tower of London. Fr. Arturo was writing his thesis for his Licentiate in Sacred Theology on Sir Thomas More. During our visit we approached a “Beefeater,” wearing the same colorful uniform found on a popular brand of gin. We explained we were Catholic priests, and Fr. Arturo was in the process of writing his thesis on Sir Thomas More. We inquired if it was possible to visit his grave. The Beefeater said nothing but motioned for us to follow him. We wandered through a several buildings, a series of corridors and eventually to what seemed to be a very small room in the basement, not accessible to the public. It was at this point the Beefeater said, “This is his grave, stay as long as you like and close the door when you leave.” It was an extremely small room that was profoundly simple with a tiny plaque that had his name engraved on it. A heroic saint relegated to a tiny room away from everything else. In death, his resting place goes unnoticed; but his life remains forever noticed as a powerful witness to his love for Christ and His Church.
That is history; but today as we approach July 4, there are brothers and sisters in Christ who face persecution and death for what they believe. In September 2015, I attended a course in Rome for new bishops. There were 125 bishops from around the world. During one of our sessions, bishops from Syria and Iraq told heart wrenching stories of the martyrdom of their people and destruction of their churches by terrorists. The bishops listened in silence. Many of us had tears in our eyes. These events and others like them have spurred Pope Francis to passionately ask the faithful throughout the world to pray for the end of religious persecution.
Shortly after this course, I had the honor to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis in Washington D.C. One of the highlights of my visit was to stand before Independence Mall, the birthplace of the United States of America. It was there the freedoms, which define this country, were first proclaimed. The Declaration of Independence states all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.
The Diocese of Fairbanks has partnered with Catholic Extension in an effort to build a special matching grant that will help us to build a permanent endowment that can be stewarded and retained for years to come. The income from this endowment will support the cost of seminarian education in the Diocese of Fairbanks. Qualifying donations must be new or increased gifts of $1,000 or more, or raised through special fund-raising events designated for the program. Catholic Extension will match each $1,000 gift up to $50,000.
What is the process for accepting seminarians?
Seminarians are accepted through a lengthy and thorough process conducted by our Vocation Director, Fr. Robert Fath and Bishop Chad Zielinski. It includes a psychological test, background check, medical evaluation, and multiple conversations to assist men discerning this vocation. Candidates must be practicing Catholics who have completed their sacraments and have a high school diploma. A college degree is preferred.
What expenses are seminarians responsible for paying? Though many seminarians' families can and do contribute very genersously to their personal expenses, most come from families of very modest incomes. The average cost of educating and forming a seminarian in our diocese is $40,000, per year. Their expenses include everything from tuition, room and board to books, stipends and health insurance.
How do we promote new vocations in the Diocese of Fairbanks?
We strive to make personal contact multiple ways, including in-person, phone, and email and through social media. Bishop Chad and Father Robert visit schools, parishes, and campus ministries to talk about vocations. The best advocates for promoting vocations are parents.
Contact us below for more information regarding Vocations or the Seminarian Endowment Challenge: