St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church sits on a picturesque site in the northern hills just outside of Fairbanks. Dedicated in 1991, St. Raphael's is a baby parish compared with pioneer parishes in other parts of the diocese, but its founders still showed pioneer spirit.
The seeds of faith had been growing in the northern outskirts of Fairbanks since the late 1970's. A small prayer group sprang up and grew steadily. Soon they began meeting for Masses in homes north of town. Meantime, a Jesuit priest, received permission from the Bishop to serve the outlying northern areas. The town was expanding, and with it the Catholic population.
The first Mass was celebrated with a small group of Catholics northeast of Fairbanks at Two Rivers School. Later the priest received permission from the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District to use Fox School gymnasium, northwest of town, for Sunday liturgies. The fledgling faith community, by then known as St. Raphael's Catholic Community, celebrated its first Mass at Fox School in November, 1979. Later liturgies were moved to Weller School. As more members of the growing population from nearby and outlying areas came for Masses, the need for a permanent place of worship became apparent.
Meantime, a man had a dream. Fairbanksan Tom Maher had told the priest years earlier of his dream to see a church built on land he owned on the Old Steese Highway. His dream came true. In 1981 Mr. Maher deeded that land to the Diocese of Fairbanks. It would be several more years before building began but Mr. Maher's dream was fulfilled, as was his wish that the church be placed under the patronage of St. Raphael the Archangel. Following the generous donation, creative fund-raising activities were initiated. One such fund raiser, St. Raphael's Christmas Ball was born then and became an annual parish event.
Leadership evolved. In 1983 the Jesuit priest was reassigned to Juneau. A Benedictine priest was appointed as "temporary" Sacramental Minister for Sunday liturgies. He retired from that position in 1995 and was followed by a Paulist priest then by a Diocesan Priest, then by a visiting priest from India.
But the parish was without full-time formal pastoral leadership much of its formative years until 1985 when Betty Johnson was appointed Pastoral Administrator by the Bishop. Mrs. Johnson served in that role until 1999. During her tenure Mrs. Johnson and the core group that had met for prayer in private homes two decades earlier saw to the successful completion of the new church. It was dedicated by Bishop Kaniecki on May 12, 1991.