Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 3, Page 8
Youth counselor treks the Alaskan tundra

     Having trekked through the tundra and snowmobiled through 60-
degrees-below-zero temperatures to reach remote Eskimo villages,
Carolyn A. Grabowski, Delaware '88, tells a riveting tale of the
     Last August, the 52-year-old, divorced mother of three sons, who
put herself through college while raising them and working full-time,
left the comforts of the "Lower 48" for life near the Bering Sea in
Alaska. Within two months of reading about a ministerial job in three
isolated Eskimo villages, Grabowski had quit a well-paying job in
business, said good-bye to supportive family and friends in Delaware
and embarked on the challenge of her life.
     Grabowski, who completed a master of arts in theology from St.
Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia last summer, is the first
woman who's not a nun or a native Alaskan to work as a pastoral
minister for the Catholic Church in the villages of Scammon Bay,
Hooper Bay and Chevak. Although a priest must administer the church's
sacraments, she provides support and "an enduring presence" with her
housecalls and counseling sessions.
     Despite drastic lifestyle changes and periods of loneliness,
Grabowski says she has fallen in love with the region and its people.
     "Life is so different here. There not only is no 'rush-hour
traffic,' but neither is there any 'hustle and bustle' of people going
anywhere," she wrote in a letter to friends last October.
     Working in a team with another woman, Sister Susan, Grabowski
visits villagers, conducts worship services and offers counseling as
needed. Her goal? "Just to help the people rediscover the good that is
already in them," she says.
     "I get immense, personal satisfaction working with the people,"
Grabowski says. "It is hard to find words to express the spiritual
rewards I receive by sharing my life with them. They look to me for
guidance and trust me."
     Grabowski is responsible for counseling the youth in the
villages. Connecting with them is a challenge.
     "I'm trying to develop within them an understanding that,
contrary to what they see on cable television, money is not everything
and their traditional way of life has a great deal of value," she
     In the process, Grabowski says she has learned a lot about
     "I have developed a greater appreciation for all of the things we
share in common," she says. "It is clearer to me that good people all
have the same basic values."
     A major challenge has been learning the villagers' guttural
languages, Yup'ik and Cup'ik, now that she's undaunted by the 20-foot
snowdrifts just outside her front door.
     Grabowski says she had serious doubts about her ability to endure
harsh winters and tough living conditions, but she's done much better
than she ever imagined she could. When the weather permits, Grabowski
travels from village to village by small plane. However, throughout
the long, grueling winter, snowmobiling is the preferred method of
      She made a 27-mile snowmobile trip from Chevak to Scammon Bay in
February, for example. "We stopped midway on the tundra. I stood
still, and I couldn't believe the total absence of sound," she
recalls. "It was all white, with the mountains on one side and just
nothing blowing. There were no birds. It was a total, peaceful
     Talking to Grabowski, who holds an associate's degree in
accounting and a bachelor's degree in business administration and
marketing from Delaware, is as informative and educational as reading
National Geographic magazine. The villages she visits range in size
from 300 to 1,000 persons and vary in character from a small suburb to
a country village to an inner-city neighborhood. Two of the villages
are inhabited by Yup'ik Eskimos; the other, by Cup'ik Eskimos. Only
one of the villages has running water in each household. The others
have water only in the school complex and in a public "Washateria,"
where residents can pay to shower or do laundry.
     In a letter to friends shortly after she arrived in Alaska,
Grabowski wrote: "Not having running water forces conservation upon
you. We collect rain water (which is plentiful right now) in a barrel
on our porch, and then transfer it to other receptacles indoors. We
use this water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, sponge baths and
laundry. You suddenly become acutely aware of resources."
     Grabowski has been invited to villagers' steam houses-small
structures outside some homes that provide saunas. Water is poured
over rocks piled on a wood stove in the steam house to create heat and
moisture. Families or groups of men or women often take steam baths
together. It's a cleansing method the villagers use three or four
times per week.
     Life near the Bering Sea means placing orders for food that is
shipped in large quantities from Anchorage or Seattle. Perishables
such as fresh fruits and vegetables are a rarity, and all groceries
are expensive, Grabowski says.
     Although they frequent village stores, locals gather most of
their food by hunting and fishing in the spring, summer and fall, she
explains. Families move out to fishing camps then to catch enough food
for the year, with women drying, salting or soaking the fish to
preserve it for the winter. During the berry-picking season, families
pick gallons of cranberries, salmonberries and blueberries to last
them through the year.
     "There are things you need to do to survive, and you just do
them," she explains.
     Grabowski, who says she has always been very involved in her
church, first heard about the pastoral minister position when she read
an ad last June in the National Catholic Reporter. Soon after she
responded to the ad, she received a letter detailing all that she'd
encounter. She was undeterred.
     A series of extensive telephone interviews helped both the
Catholic Church and Grabowski determine that she and the job were a
good match. She's more sure than ever that she made the right move.
     Although her contract is renewed yearly, "I have no desire to
move on, to move elsewhere," she says. "I am very much at home here."
                                         -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83