The Russian Orthodox Bishop of Alaska honored a fervent member of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church on Sunday morning.
“There’s someone who does a lot of good around here and really doesn’t get very much of credit,” Bishop David, clad in golden vestments, said to a small congregation at the end of the 90-minute-long Divine Liturgy in the iconic downtown Juneau church.
The bishop, who’s based out of Anchorage, was in town for several days to visit with St. Nicholas faithful, including newly-appointed parish rector Steven McGuigan. He brought with him an award known as a “gramota” to deliver to an unsuspecting Patrick Kearney at the end of the worship service on Sunday morning. Russian Orthodox bishops give out the special recognition to lay members that go above and beyond.
“It was a total surprise,” Kearney, 65, said at a parish brunch after the service.
Kearney moved to Juneau four years ago to escape the California heat, and started serving at St. Nicholas right away: welcoming summer visitors into the church and doing yard work. Behind the scenes, he kept the parish house (the building right next to the church) in working order. When he discovered moldy boxes filled with unused coffee mugs in the basement, Kearney cleaned them off to give away to whoever wanted them.
By serving in his church, he said, “it gives me some place to belong.”
Kearney was one of the first people McGuigan met after moving to town. McGuigan was named the rector of Juneau’s only Orthodox Church last August. He told the Empire last December he sought to be a stabilizing force for the parish that went the better part of a decade without a full-time priest.
Kearney, whether he knew it or not, answered the same call when he arrived in Juneau, spending long hours at the church doing whatever needed to be done.
“He’s just the guy that if he sees something that needs to get done, he’s the one doing it,” McGuigan said. “There have been times this summer, long after night has fallen and it’s dark, walk up the block and I’ll notice him doing some gardening or something, often times in the rain, half the time with no tools at all, just using his bare hands, just weeding or things. It’s stuff like that.”
Bishop David said most parishes like St. Nicholas are supported by “unsung heroes” like Kearney. The trick, he said, is simply stopping to take the time to acknowledge their works.
“They’re humble, they’re always in the background, they’re always there to help, you can always count on them when you need something,” Bishop David said. “But they don’t look for recognition. They’re (not) doing it because they want anything, they’re just glad to do it, to be a dedicated servant of God in the right way.”
McGuigan remembers one occasion in which Kearney self-deprecatingly referred to himself as “the village idiot.”
“Hell no,” the priest shot back.
On the contrary, Kearney is an exceptional modeler of the faith, said McGuigan.
“This is how you live your faith: quiet, no trumpet being blown, but just seeing something that needs to happen and doing it,” he said.
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