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Boy Scout Troop 229
(Eagle River, Alaska)
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Saint Andrew Catholic Church

Plans for a new church in Chugiak were drawn up as early as 1953, but the first mass celebrated there took place on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, 1955.The Fathers Gaefell, twin brothers who were military chaplains, sang Mass in the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Company's Hall. The altar consisted of a sheet of plywood on two sawhorses, and a military Mass kit was provided for the service.

On August 28, 1957, the Most Reverend Dermot O'Flanagan, Bishop of Juneau, established the new Parish of Saint Anthony, which included the Eagle River/Chugiak area south of the Eklutna River. The priests of SaintAnthony soon began to visit the Chugiak area and, the same year, the church acquired a plot of land at Mile 14 on the Glenn Highway. Several years of increased activity led to the construction of a 34' by 64' basement foundation on the land at Mile 14.On Easter Sunday, April 14, 1963, Father Robert L. Whelan, S.J., said Mass in the new church. Bishop O'Flanagan solemnly blessed the new church on Sunday, May 12, 1963, and the people of Chugiak/Eagle River finally had their church. For five years the area remained a mission of Saint Anthony Church, and priests from several parishes came to Eagle River to celebrate Mass.

On October 16, 1967, Archbishop Joseph T. Ryan, Archbishop of Anchorage, designated the area north of Fort Richardson and south of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough as the Parish of Saint Andrew. The next day Monsignor Francis Cowgill was appointed the first pastor of Saint Andrew Parish. Four months later the Reverend Joseph E. Shirey, S.J., was appointed to his first pastorate at Saint Andrew. Father Peter Houck, O.S.B., became pastor on June 7,1972. During those years a small mobile home and a miniature "HuskyHouse" were obtained for priest housing. Father Houck found himself involved in the construction business as the parish developed a social hall in the Chugiak area near the Senior Citizens Center. Unfortunately, the area was not readily accessible and the structure was later sold.

In January of 1976, the Reverend Alfred W. Giebel became the pastor of the expanding congregation. The mobile home and "HuskyHouse" were becoming a serious maintenance problem though, and the parish decided to build a rectory on top of the church basement. This project was rapidly completed, but it was soon obvious that the basement church was inadequate for the number of people moving into the area. By early 1980, plans were underway to build a major new church building, and footings were started onAugust 16th. Contractors completed the block work, but most of the construction was accomplished throughout the winter by a parishioner labor force.Parishioners also created the altar, the ambo, stands for the baptismal font and tabernacle, the Transfigured Christ and the Stations of the Cross. May 27,1981, was a highlight of parish life as Archbishop Francis Hurley, Archbishop of Anchorage, and a multitude of priests, dedicated the new Saint AndrewChurch. A crowd of nearly 500 people participated in the dedication Mass and enjoyed the first social affair in Conwell Hall.

Father Leo. C. Desso became pastor on August 15, 1989. His tenure as pastor witnessed further explosive growth in the congregation asEagle River itself grew. Fr. Desso encouraged a great deal of lay involvement and leadership. He led the parish in an increased participation in charitable causes and actively sought to involve youth in parish activities.

Father Leo Walsh STD was installed as the pastor ofSt.Andrew on July 4, 1999. Under his guidance the parish underwent substantial growth. A generous gift of land was received from an anonymous donor and a drive to build a new, larger church began. It culminated with the dedication of the new St. Andrew church on St. Andrew’s Day 2006. The new church is the largest, and arguably the most beautiful church in the state.

The Parish was led by Fr. Leo until 2009 when Fr. Ben Torreto replaced him for 1 year, then followed by Fr. Steven Moore for 8months.

Pastoral stability was restored with the assignment ofFr.Tom Brundage JCL who served the parish for 5 years.

As St. Andrew parish, with Archbishop Roger Schwietz OMI as pastor, approaches the 10th anniversary of the new church we are ready to serve the Chugiak/Eagle River Community as the parish increases to meet the needs of our growing Catholic community.

For more information, see the St Andrew Catholic Church Website