By Brandon McIntire
This photo essay is by Brandon McIntire, Rasmuson Foundation’s 2018 summer intern. He came through First Alaskans Institute and since has returned to Harvard College, where he is studying economics and psychology. All photos are by Brandon unless noted.
For seven years my grandparents lived in Unalaska and, always, the Bishop’s House beckoned.
My grandfather, the Very Rev. Peter Bourdukofsky, served as the priest at Holy Ascension Orthodox Cathedral, the second oldest Russian Orthodox church in the country, and the center from which Orthodoxy spread through Western Alaska.
Next door was the Bishop’s House, a sturdy home that has been in decline ever since World War II when Unangax people were evacuated and U.S. troops occupied the complex.
My grandmother, Katherine, told me she and my grandfather always wanted to restore the Bishop’s House and live there. But my grandfather fell ill. In 2005, he died. Their dream was paused.
Now those hopes are playing out anew. This summer, I got to help the community take steps to restore the Bishop’s House. And my grandmother, mom and aunt were there alongside me. Thanks to the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and the Aleut Foundation, we flew to Unalaska in August.
We worked on the house and hosted a reception to help with community engagement and fundraising. The renovation project is through Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska (ROSSIA) and is supported by Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association. The church itself was built in 1894, on the site of an earlier church from 1808 with some of the original timbers. The cathedral is the oldest cruciform-style Orthodox church in North America.
This seemed like a can’t miss opportunity because of ties to many aspects of my life. Not only was my grandfather a priest at Holy Ascension but also my great-great-great grandfather. Every summer, my parents would take me and my brother out to Unalaska to visit my grandparents. I remember playing on the beaches, listening to Johnny Cash in my grandpa’s truck, and spending a lot of time in and around the church.
This summer, I was an external affairs intern for Rasmuson Foundation, which has supported ROSSIA renovation projects with $623,000 in grants since 2010 including a $25,000 grant this year for the Bishop’s House. ROSSIA is trying to raise $500,000 by March 30, 2019, for a state-of-the-art fire suppression system in the cathedral to protect icons that were gifted to Alaska by Catherine the Great of Russia and to restore Bishop’s House. Both buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The cathedral is a National Historic Landmark, the highest honor. The whole project is estimated to cost more than $2 million.
The trip this summer went great. We traveled around the island, caught up with family and friends, and even squeezed in some berry picking. The night before the reception at the Bishop’s House, we visited Gertie Svarny, Rasmuson Foundation’s Distinguished Artist in 2017.
“I always loved this place,” Katherine Bourdukofsky, my grandma, told her. “And we loved you,” Gertie responded.
More than 50 people showed up for the reception to eat and learn about the history of the church and Bishop’s House, as well as the ways that they can help. This opportunity allowed me to work on a project that my grandfather wished would happen and to give back to a community that gave so much to my family.
If you would like to learn more about the restoration of these historic buildings, visit the ROSSIA website.