Written on: August 14, 2023
It’s about 5:30 a.m. on June 13. Dwight Leonetti dropped us off at the Philadelphia Airport, where Sister Bridget and I will start the boarding process for our 7 a.m. flight to Kodiak with layovers in Seattle and Anchorage. Waiting in Anchorage is enjoyable because we always meet people we know, either coming from or going to Kodiak. This time was no exception! Our wait time was filled with catch-up-conversations with several long time Kodiak friends. Finally, landing in Kodiak after sixteen and half hours of travel, GN Associates Fru Finn and Colleen Helligso were there waiting for us as were multiple other friends — including the mountains, still with their winter blanket of snow. It was a lovely sunny evening, the first they said in ten days! Two days later, we’re back to Kodiak weather as usual.
What prompted our trip to Kodiak was the dedication of the St. Marguerite d’Youville Caregiver Food Pantry. Fru read about a caregiver food pantry in a Providence Hospital in Oregon and recognized the need for one in Kodiak. Immediately, Fru became a woman with a burning mission. It was “so St. Marguerite” and so needed. She began making things happen and after almost a year of moving and shaking, the pantry was ready. GN Associates stocked the shelves, but the users will keep them replenished as they are able and thus it is caretakers caring for caretakers. How wonderful!
The dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony took place the morning of June 16. Present were Karl Hertz, Hospital CEO, Pat Branson, Mayor of Kodiak, many of the hospital staff and friends, and the GN Associates. Afterwards, Sister Bridget and I met with our Associates over lunch at Fru’s. Later that afternoon, Hospital Chaplain, Deacon Innocent, graciously offered to give us a tour of their new Elderhouse located just outside on the hill behind the hospital. This is replacing the extended care unit that Sister Jo Patti added to the hospital in the 1970’s.
I think it’s important to note that Chaplain Innocent is a deacon in the Orthodox Church of America, which was established in 1792 when the first Russian fur traders arrived in Kodiak with their monks and settled on Kodiak Island. This September, Deacon Innocent will be going to his new assignment in Oregon to serve in a parish where his son is pastor. He did a masterful job showing how the charisms of the Grey Nuns and the Sisters of Providence complement each other and, therefore, how fitting to be living and honoring both.
While the dedication of the food pantry was the event that brought us to Kodiak, our event planners, Fru and Associates, made sure our time there was non-stop in the best possible ways! So there was tea with GN Associate Carole, lunch with former school parent Judy Pletnikoff, dinner with the Freed-Schmitt family, dinner for 15 hosted by the McFarland’s, an evening alum reception at St. Mary’s School followed by a tour, and – the day before leaving – a reception after the Saturday evening liturgy.
As I said, Alaska airports are always exciting places. When we were going through security in Kodiak, I asked if Mac was working. “Yes he is. Do you want me to let him know you’re here?” “Absolutely!” Out comes Mac, one of our former students who is now a grandfather. Then as our boarding pass is being scanned, we hear, “Hey Sisters!” Of course it is David, another former student! They are everywhere.
A word about the school. As many know, this June 2023 was the last year for our beloved St. Mary’s School, after 69 wonderful years. The enrollment had been dwindling in spite of valiant efforts by faithful alums and parents to increase it. What a blessing though, that these faithful friends knew how to listen to the Spirit to bring something new to birth! Starting this fall the school will continue to be a happy, safe and welcoming home to The Rock, a K-8th grade online home school group.
It will also be home for the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) and the Sun’aq Tribe day care and preschool. The day care, preschool, and kindergarten will be open to coordinating efforts to offer children the best possible placement. Cooperation for the common good at its finest!
The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart have a long and fruitful history in Kodiak. We came in 1944 to put the hospital back together, and had to leave in 1978.
We opened St. Mary’s School in 1954 and had to leave in 2007. We started Hispanic ministries in 2000 and had to leave in 2009.
Though we had to physically leave our Kodiak ministries, the Grey Nun spirit lives on in new and deeply beautiful ways. It is yet again the very real experience of the Paschal Mystery. May we always live in recognition, gratitude, and awe of this mystery.
(from the dedication of the food pantry)
Because our needs are so great today, and because your care God, is constant, we know that you are rebuilding a network of compassion around new visionaries who are answering your invitation. You surprise us with the discovery of how much power each of us has to make a difference in our day:
—A difference in the way citizens meet, greet, respect, and protect the rights of each other.
—A difference in the breadth of our vision of what is possible in humanization, reconciliation, and equalization in our city.
—A difference in the way government, business, and labor can work together, for justice and social enrichment.
—A difference in our response to the needy, and a difference in our appreciation for those who give of themselves for the surviving and thriving of our sisters and brothers.
Help us to use this day to spark new hope and stir up our passion for new possibilities. Make compassion and the spirit of sacrifice to be the new mark of affluence of character. Strengthen us to face reality and to withstand the rigor of tough times in the anticipation of a bright side beyond the struggle. Inspire, empower, and sustain us until we reach the mountaintop, and see that future for which our hearts yearn.
This is our fervent and sincere prayer. Amen.