Fr. Shijo Kanjirathamkunnel, C.M., recently returned home to his mother province in India for the first time in 14 years following a five-year assignment as Superior of the Vincentian International Mission in Alaska and the Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, serving the Hispanic population throughout Alaska.

Some might be surprised to learn of the significant Spanish-speaking population in Alaska, but, he said, Hispanics have been migrating to the state since the 1960s and ‘70s. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage, where the Vincentians are based, serves about 500 Hispanic families. He said he would also see crowds for Spanish Mass in Juneau, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Wasilla, and Fairbanks.

Spanish is a second language for Fr. Shijo, who studied canon law in Spain. He requested the Alaska assignment while serving in Rome. He said the winters took some getting used to, as well as the long polar nightfall.

“Summertime is always beautiful,” Fr. Shijo said. “By March, we regain light, and by the end of May snow disappears and everything turns green in about a week.”

Fr. Shijo said he is grateful to have had the opportunity to minister to the Hispanic people in Alaska, who otherwise can’t celebrate the Eucharist in their native language.

“I also want to acknowledge the help I’ve received from the Western Province,” Fr. Shijo said. “It’s been easy to run the mission because of it.”

Fr. Hank Grodecki, C.M., takes over as Superior with Fr. Shijo’s departure. Fr. Shijo said it would be an adjustment being back in his home country after so many years, but he is not concerned.

“I don’t think it will be too difficult,” he said. “Usually, I can adjust anywhere.”

This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue of The Vincentian, the quarterly newsletter of the Western Province. The current and back issues of the newsletter are available HERE.