Visiting Princeton University last month was a moving experience. It is where Rev. Lewis Bond graduated in 1864. Lewis and Fanny Bond served with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in European Turkey for thirty-six years. Twenty-two of these were in Monastir. The Bonds’ future son-in-law, Phineas B. Kennedy, would also graduate from Princeton in 1891, as well as from Princeton’s Theological Seminary with an advanced degree in 1894, during which time Woodrow Wilson was a professor and later president of the university. Phineas and Violet (the Bonds’ daughter) dedicated 31 years of their lives to the Kortcha Evangelical Church and the first girls’ school in Albania. I eagerly read through Lewis’ and Phineas’ university records and their stories from the alumni accounts to learn of their work in the Albanian world. I wanted to discover more of the Albanian story from their accumulated years of service from the 1880s to 1939.
Filled with more questions, I drove through misty rain to Plainfield, New Jersey, where Lewis was born and later buried along with his wife, Fannie, and other family members. I called ahead to the caretaker, who kindly unlocked the gate. As I entered the old church’s cemetery to lay flowers on the Bonds’ and the Kennedys’ gravesites, I was moved with profound admiration for these who so lovingly sacrificed their lives for the Albanian cause, as patriots would do for their homeland. For me on the trail of the Albanian Protestant movement, which started in European Turkey and was founded by Gerasim Kyrias (Gjerasim Qiriazi) in Kortcha (Korça), Albania, I journeyed to this resting place to respectfully honor these unsung heroes, known as filoshqiptare, who served Albania with all of their hearts and often through perilous times.
The Bonds had left Boston as newlyweds in 1868. Early they served the ABCFM in Eski Zagra (in Bulgaria today) where their four children were born. In 1877 they had to flee for their lives to Constantinople as the Turkish soldiers destroyed the town. By 1882, the ABCFM transferred the Bonds to Monastir. Violet was 12 years old when her father, Mr. Bond, became the director of the Monastir Girls’ School where Sevasti, Paraskevi and Viktoria Kyrias also attended. Here Sevasti and Violet became lifelong friends. It was in 1888 that Mr. Bond escorted the two excited young teenagers to the American Girls’ School (College) in Constantinople. It is no wonder that Mr. Bond later became the Kortcha Girls’ School “Kujdestari.” Grigor Tsilka, another young man in the Monastir Protestant efforts, came to help Gerasim and the Vëllazeria (Brotherhood) Movement for a year as the nën-kujdestari of the Kortcha Girls’ School (1894-1895) until he left for Mr. Bond’s seminary alma mater, Union Theological Seminary in New York.
In 1904, when Sevasti wearied from her struggle to keep the Girls’ School open in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, she came to the United States for a year of refreshment and further studies. Before returning to Albania in 1905, she visited her friends, the Bonds, in Plainfield and their daughter Violet, now married to Rev. Phineas Kennedy. What thoughts flooded my imagination as I drove by the Bonds’ family home where Sevasti most likely visited with them! Was it in that very house that Sevasti requested of the Kennedys for them to join her in Kortcha to help keep the school open through their influence as American citizens? There are many more documents from this time period that researchers like myself need to piece together to more fully understand this valuable part of Albanian history related to the Kyrias family, the first Albanian girls’ school, the development of education in Albania, and the many other figures involved in the Albanian Ungjillore (Gospel) movement. It is yet another important piece of the puzzle concerning the formation of the emerging independent nation of Albania in the early twentieth history.