It’s a massive feat to just to climb North America’s highest mountain, but even rarer to celebrate Mass on the 20,320 foot peak. In fact, one local Alaskan historian doesn’t recall it ever happening before July 3, when three childhood friends from Poland summited the famed Mt. McKinley.
Father Krzyaztof Grzybowski and his brother Father Robert Grzybowski celebrated a Mass with their childhood friend Adrian Przyluski attending.
In a letter to the Catholic Anchor, Father Richard Tero, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Seward and local church historian in the Archdiocese of Anchorage said he believes the Mass might be the first on the top of North America’s highest peak.
“In a most exceptionally clear and calm day, at about 4 p.m. after a long climb from 17,000 feet, on the West Buttress route, they were able to spend about 45 minutes at the 20,320 foot summit,” Father Tero wrote.
Other priests known to have summited Mt. McKinley include Father Carl Abele in the early 1970s, as well as Father Michael Shields and Dominican Father Tim Conlin in the 1980s, Father Tero said. None of those men celebrated Mass on the mountain.
“I’m sure other foreign priests have also had success but didn’t share it with the local priests,” Father Tero added.
Getting to the top of the mountain with a Mass kit, however, doesn’t guarantee that a priest could celebrate Mass, as weather conditions and wind levels are often extreme.
On July 3rd, the peak was clear and calm, conditions that are “extremely rare,” Father Tero said.
Father Tero hosted the priest brothers and their friend in Seward, where the Polish men enjoyed a Kenai Fjords tour of a glacier after their climb.
In sharing the story of the mountaintop liturgy, Father Tero said the men had to “blow on the wine to unfreeze it for the Mass.”
The three men grew up together in Bielsk Podlaski at the far east of Poland, on the border with Belarus.
The two brothers now serve in their home diocese as priests. Przyluski is a police officer in Warsaw. The men left Anchorage on July 23.