November 14, 2013 — For decades, a Russian Orthodox bell had been missing from the community of Native American Orthodox Christians in Kodiak, Alaska. Now, thanks to an interfaith group that includes Jesuit Father Ray Bucko, the bell has been returned.
Formerly under the care of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the bell has been repaired and will now be displayed at the Russian Orthodox Holy Resurrection Cathedral on Kodiak Island.
In addition to coordinating the bell’s safe return to Alaska, Fr. Bucko drafted an academic paper about the bell to be published in the Catholic Historian, for the research journal’s upcoming issue on Catholic and Orthodox Christian relations.
Not much is known about the bell’s history, other than that it is of Russian or Alaskan origin, as deduced from the method of its casting. Somehow, the bell found its way to California. Photos show the bell in California in the early 1930s, and by some accounts the bell may have been in California as early as the 1890s.
“It most likely arrived from Alaska in the mid-19th century, possibly to be repaired at a Los Angeles bell foundry, and then was never returned,” said Seth Bourg, Fr. Bucko’s research assistant at Fordham University. “It eventually came into the possession of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and was stored at the San Fernando Mission.”
According to Bourg, Fr. Bucko became involved in the project when he first read an article written by the founder of the Society for Orthodox Christian History in the Americas, Matthew Namee, about the bell and why it should be returned. Fr. Bucko volunteered his assistance and helped orchestrated the process to get the bell returned to Alaska. Archbishop Jose Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, assisted in the three-year process. Fr. Bucko has also been involved in other interfaith repatriation projects.
Fr. Bucko said that “seeing the involvement of and focus placed on Native American Christians in the process and helping promote ecumenism between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches” was the most fulfilling part of the process.
“Not only does it help to strengthen the bond between Catholics and Orthodox in America, it does so in such a way that further recognizes and unifies Native Catholics and Orthodox Christians,” he said.