The adventures of Father Bartholomew “Fr. Bart” Hutcherson’s, O.P., missionary and photographic travels across Alaska resulted in the release of his first book, “For the Beauty of the Earth: Experiencing the Glory of God in the Wonders of the 49th State,” on May 6.
The shutterbug priest hosted a book launch party that day at St. Paul’s Corner in Anchorage, where he was interviewed by Alaska’s News Source meteorologist Jackie Purcell, autographed books, and took photos with guests.
Fr. Bart’s book is interspersed with reflections, scripture, hymns, psalms, poetry, and more than 350 photos he captured that showcase Alaska’s beauty.
“Thank you, Alaska, for embracing me,” Fr. Bart said, “and making it feel like this is my second home.”
Fr. Bart is a Dominican friar and priest living at St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland, California. He teaches homiletics to seminarians at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of California Berkeley. He often travels to preach at various parishes, missions, and retreats.
Since his high school days, Fr. Bart could be seen tinkering with the aperture and shutter speed settings of his hobbyist film cameras. Today, that young, curious photographer continues to live inside the itinerant preacher from California, who had been documenting his travels across Alaska from December 2020 to July 2021.
Before 2020, Fr. Bart had never stepped foot in Alaska. Like many others, he only experienced the state through social media and television. But that changed when fellow priest and friend Father Steve Maekawa invited him to visit to assist with Christmas commitments in December 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns had put a halt on almost everything throughout the United States during his stay.
“Most of my work in the Lower 48 was shut down because of COVID, and I had little incentive to return to a lockdown situation in Oakland,” he said. “Things were beginning to open up here and Archbishop Bellisario said I could stay and offer my services here in the Archdiocese.”
So, Fr. Bart stayed. His Dominican brothers welcomed him, and numerous ministry opportunities opened up for him throughout the state.
“I kept extending my return ticket and eventually stayed for seven months,” he said. “Alaska has gotten into my soul.”
Being new to the state during his stay, Fr. Bart embraced the guidance of his old friend, Father Maekawa, — “explore.”
Between mission trips and his priestly duties, Fr. Bart traveled to numerous places throughout Alaska’s triangular highway system, such as Fairbanks, Homer, McCarthy, Seward, and Valdez. He said his favorite place to visit was a pull-off spot along Glenn Highway, 10 miles west of Glennallen, which offers a perfect view of Mount Drum.
“I probably took 300 or 400 photos in that same spot over the course of seven months,” he said reminiscing on his travels. “I think it is the most beautiful highway in the USA.”
Fr. Bart also visited Unalaska on the Aleutian Islands and ventured north of the Arctic Circle to Kotzebue, where he ministered to Alaska Natives. He noted that he loved learning about Alaska through the eyes of its native people.
Following almost two years since the start of his “frontier adventure,” Fr. Bart’s appreciation and awe of the state grew exponentially, as well as his view that God’s divinity can be found within the endless mountain ranges and open skies of Alaska.
“I have always associated the majesty and grandeur of mountains with divinity,” Fr. Bart said. “So much of the state is covered by not just mountains — but vast, massive mountains. I find them breathtaking.”
Although he felt God’s presence within the mountains, it was his experience of the aurora borealis lights that truly lifted his heart to God.
“I saw them many times and I always felt like I was watching God painting in the sky,” he said. Fr. Bart noted that the “bright, active” shows reminded him of Psalm 19:2, “the heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.”
By July 2021, Fr. Bart returned to California with more than 50,000 photos during his seven-month adventure in Alaska. And he has visited the state three more times since leaving.
Copies of his book are available at St. Paul’s Corner or can be ordered online anywhere in the U.S. through Fr. Bart’s website (www.FrBart.com/alaska-book.html).
Fr. Bart now looks on to a new project he will soon launch, “pilgrIMAGES,” a monthly electronic newsletter where he will invite reflection on a photo or two. Those interested in subscribing should email Fr. Bart at firstname.lastname@example.org.