Madison Hayes, Archdiocese of Anchorage, is entering his third year studying theology at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, with support from Catholic Extension. We asked why he feels called to serve tiny Alaskan towns—some accessible only by plane or boat.
Take us back to your childhood. When did you first hear God’s call?
I was born into a military family in California. When I was 2, we moved to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. My parents were Protestant, but not practicing. Then my mother met a Catholic woman and started taking my four brothers and me to Mass.
I loved that sense of community. As humans, we are made to be in community. The Catholic community on base was dynamic. We gathered on Monday nights for the rosary, shared meals and did service projects together. At age 10, I was so excited to be baptized into a close-knit faith community!
At a confirmation retreat, I felt the first calling to priesthood and asked a chaplain what I needed to do. He said, “God will start opening doors in prayer and make clear the way He wants you to go.”
Chaplains encouraged my vocation—especially by modeling healthy, happy priesthood. Additionally, going on family pilgrimages and making a trip to the Holy Land during high school fueled my budding spiritual life.
While the idea simmered, I attended college, graduating with a business degree in 2010. Shortly afterwards, I joined the Air Force. Following training in Texas and Oklahoma, I was assigned to Alaska—which was a great blessing, because I am outdoorsy, adventurous and a big fisherman.
But the call to priesthood returned?
Yes, I often met with priests, sharing my desire to serve God and others. Also, I could see that Alaska needed priests. Once on a fishing trip in Valdez, I woke up early to attend Sunday Mass in town. I was heartbroken to hear there was no Mass because the pastor was on rotation to another rural parish. Encountering this priest shortage made me realize that Alaska is mission territory. I wanted to help.
Through the Archdiocese of Anchorage, I entered St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in Minnesota in 2015. I am finishing my studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and will be ordained, God willing, in 2021.
I am a chaplain candidate in the Air Force reserves, so I will serve both the archdiocese and in the military.
Why do you want to encounter Alaskans who are so isolated?
The Church’s role always starts with meeting people where they are, even in very remote areas— but it does not end there. We are called to bring them the fullness of truth, to show them the beauty of the Church and help them pursue goodness through a relationship with God.
On my summer pastoral assignment in Alaska this year, I traveled with a priest to serve Sunday Mass on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. For years, the parish hasn’t had a resident priest, but one was just named. I could see their excitement for more consistent availability of the sacraments, especially daily Mass and regular confessions. One day, I will be a priest like that.
Why is Catholic Extension’s support for seminarians in Alaska important?
Financing seminarians’ education is a big burden to mission dioceses. Over a priest’s lifetime, he will serve in several places and reach many Catholics. Catholic Extension enables us to impact people who otherwise would not have access to the Catholic Church, or only rarely.
I am grateful to Catholic Extension donors who let us bring Jesus Christ to the furthest ends of the world.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others. Everyone in the military knows this. And a priest is much the same. He lays down his life for the Church.