On August 8, 1962 Pope John XXIII officially established the Diocese of Fairbanks. Before that the Church in Alaska had been an Apostolic Vicariate, a form of territorial jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church established in missionary regions that do not have a Diocese.

Bishop Francis Gleeson, S.J., then Vicar Apostolic of Alaska, was appointed first Ordinary (Bishop) of the new diocese. Bishop Gleeson immediately set about the building of a cathedral dedicated to the Sacred Heart. It was sorely needed. Immaculate Conception Church was then the only Catholic parish in the area, but it was over half a century old and too small to accommodate the growing Catholic community. As many as eight Masses were being offered there each weekend.

In addition, the newly created diocese needed a cathedral "chair of authority" in which the bishop could bless Holy Oils used in the administration of the Sacraments. Before the cathedral was built, Holy Oils were obtained from Seattle for use by priests and missionaries in Alaska during the year. Official ground breaking ceremonies took place in 1962, but it took four years to complete construction. As reported in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, the building took "shape slowly according to available finances and the supply of volunteer labor."

Fr. James Spils, S.J., called "God's builder" according to records of The Alaska Shepherd archives, acted as construction superintendent. The first Mass at the Cathedral was celebrated on Palm Sunday, 1966. Bishop Gleeson was the main celebrant. During that Holy Week, the bishop, for the first time in the history of Alaska, blessed the Holy Oils used in the administration of the Sacraments.

The official dedication of the Cathedral to the Sacred Heart came two months later on the feast of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, June 17, 1966. On January 1, 1969, the Fairbanks parish was canonically divided into two parishes, Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart Cathedral. A Jesuit priest became the Cathedral's first official pastor on August 15, 1969. During his tenure he nurtured the formation of a Parish Council. A few years earlier, and before the two Fairbanks parishes were canonically divided, the Parish Council had been elected from both parishes: one advising body for two churches. The 2000 jubilee book, A Brief Illustrated History of the Diocese of Fairbanks, lists Sacred Heart parishioners Michael Kelly, Robert Betz and Richard Greuel as principal organizers of the first Parish Council.

A number of priests served at Sacred Heart in the ensuing decades including members of the Society of Jesus who served the Cathedral from 1966 until 1982 when diocesan priests took over the task. The parish has also been blessed with the service of several deacons.


Parishioners celebrated Sacred Heart Cathedral's Silver Jubilee in June, 1991.