by Rick Winterson
There have been Christmas Dinners served to the people of South Boston for the last 35 years. These are such joyful occasions, one can only hope that these Dinners continue to be served for at least 135 years more. This custom began with the late Msgr. McDonnell (popularly called “Fr. Tom”), who enlisted the help of Frank Kelley, a retired Marine Mess Sergeant. Fr. Tom was inspired by the stories of feasting in Luke’s Gospel, which he called “the Hospitality Gospel”. The Dinners were first held in the old St. Augustine Hall; they now take place every Christmas Day in St. Monica Church Hall.
This Year of Our Lord 2018 was the 35th Anniversary of these Dinners. And it was special – very special, indeed. You see, there was a keen demand from all around South Boston for Christmas Dinners this year, just as there was for the 2018 Thanksgiving Dinners five weeks ago. Three hundred (300) were to be delivered; another 100 diners were expected to show up in St. Monica Hall – a total of 400, which actually occurred. It was a really festive occasion. Frank Kelley would have been proud of Christmas Dinner volunteers. Four hundred (400) is equal to a battalion-sized military unit.
But fate intervened. The Academy Homes in Roxbury lost their gas supply over the weekend. A leak led to the discovery that the old gas valves in their gas supply system were frozen open, and could not be safely closed. According to ISD Chief Buddy Christopher, who stopped at St. Monica’s to help deliver some meals, over 20 plumbers/gas fitters are laboring to replace every valve. But the folks at Academy Homes have had no heat, hot water, or gas to cook with for the last few days. And there went Christmas Dinner, of course. At least that’s what everyone thought.
Except that the kitchen volunteers who prepared and served the Christmas in St. Monica Hall stepped up – Tommy Butler, Dan Manning with his kitchen crew, and all the dining hall helpers. They emptied out the St. Monica/St. Augustine Food Pantry and prepared 200+ extra meals – yes, that’s more than 200 extra meals for a total of 600 Dinners (!!!) on the 2018 Christmas morning. Not only that, the dining room volunteers also stepped up, placing these 200+ extra meals into individual containers and big, white delivery bags. The St. Monica volunteer drivers then delivered these Christmas Dinners to the Academy Homes in Roxbury. And of course, all of those volunteers – and there weren’t that many for such a giant task – already had commitments for their own Christmas celebrations.
But they all did it, anyhow. What a great, even heroic, way to set the stage for a Happy 2019 New Year. Thank you.