Thanksgiving in Sculley Square

by J. Grant Swank, Jr.

I was a sophomore in a church-related New England college outside Boston. I could not go home for Thanksgiving because I just couldn't. I was planning on being home for Christmas and being in Maryland for November vacation was too close to December's get-away. So I went from student to student on campus to ask for money. I had an idea. I would feed the Boston poor in Sculley Square on Thanksgiving Day. But I needed money-cash. Fellow students gave away their money. I put it in a jar in my dorm room. And then most of my friends left for Turkey Day elsewhere. It was an eerie feeling at the college when dorms were mostly empty. But I was so excited I was beside myself. Prior to Thanksgiving I went into Boston where they sold clerical collars. Even though I am a Protestant, I would dress as a priest. It was the only way I could be certain that I'd be safe at nighttime in Sculley Square-the dregs of the metropolis. It was where the prostitutes stood on corners, vagrants slept in the gutters, and a downtown mission sang hymns like, "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling." I knew Sculley Square. I was a part of the college's Evangelistic Association. We made our way into the slums of Boston to sing and preach and hand out hymnals in the mission. It smelled badly in that mission house. But it was one grand place to be. Straight-backed chairs. Floppy hymnals with paper backs. An old piano at the front of the room. No microphones. Hanging bald light bulbs strung from the stained ceiling. And the gospel preached with gusto, especially by students preparing for the ministry. So it was that preparing for Thanksgiving I went to buy my Roman collar. I had a black suit (most of the preacher-wannabes had black suits). So I was all set. I had my cash. I had my collar. I had my black suit. And I had my Thanksgiving in Boston rather than with family in Maryland. Perfect. The day came to get onto the T-the train that went from Quincy to Boston. There I sat, looking very much like a priest. Of course, back in 1958, Catholics swarmed all over Massachusetts, particularly Boston. Priests in garb and nuns in habits were all over the place. So I fitted in well enough, though truly I was a bit young to have finished priestly schooling. Presently I disembarked onto Park Street and Tremont Street, the Boston Commons to my left. It was mid-afternoon. I walked down past King's Chapel right into the heart of Sculley Square. I was home! Sure enough, vagrants were right and left. I approached my first customer. "Hello, Father." "Hello. I hope you're having a blessed Thanksgiving Day, sir." "Not at all." "Then here's some money. Take it over there to the cafeteria and get yourself a turkey dinner. God bless you." I handed him enough money for the meal. In a flash, the man took my money and darted into the shadows. He had no intention of eating a turkey dinner. Liquor was better. And he had my cash in hand. That taught this nave Protestant teetotaler a lesson. So I walked the next fellow I approached to the cafeteria, watched him put the food on the tray and then paid the cashier myself for his food. But before any more men had their free meals, I walked them into historic King's Chapel-awesome, quiet, perfect for meditation and prayer. The doors then were never locked. There I prayed for each one before he got his turkey dinner. Night began to fall. I was on one grand high for Jesus. I had never felt so good in a long, long time. I thought my heart would burst. It was one of the most miraculous spiritual experiences I have ever been privileged to know.
2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
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