ADVENTures in time: Christmas Poverty by Father Leo

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ADVENTures in time: Christmas Poverty by Father Leo

To get everyone in the holiday spirit during Advent, the staff of Glenmary Challenge magazine has gone back to the archives to share some of the best Christmas stories ever reported from the missions.

This second week of Advent post comes from 58 years ago in the Winter 1960 edition of the magazine. Father Leo Schloemer tells the tale of visting a poor family in the hills of West Virginia. Nearly 60 years later, this same kind of story still plays out with Glenmarians delivering needed goods and Christmas cheer in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

Christmas Poverty

By Father Leo Schloemer
Glenmary Challenge, Winter 1960

Well, my storefront chapel at Slab Forks was so poor, you wouldn’t believe this, that we didn’t even bother taking up a collection. The Slab Forkers were poor in every possible way: physically — undernourished and poor diets, intellectually — not much “book learning,” maybe some people wouldn’t like my saying it that way but they couldn’t get to school much, and poor spiritually — religion can’t even root in that climate.

Sagging Shanty

One family, the Hugh Boggs, were a pitiful example of this three-fold poverty. The mother was a beautiful dark-haired woman in her late twenties. The father had a bad leg. He could only work on odd jobs in the timber. The six children were ragged and undernourished. Their three-room log shanty sagged with newspaper walls, a teetering kerosene stove, hazardous cavities in the floor, and one iron bedstead. (You know, with the accent on cleanliness nowadays I won’t describe the dirt. People don’t like to help the poor when they are dirty. They don’t think it does any good.)  The road was scarcely passable, “not even jack ass-able.” Chesterton said that. I always wondered how long my luck would hold out driving up Boggs Hollow.

Long before Christmas we started collecting things for our Christmas boxes. The Siena Guild sent us shoes and clothes. Three days before Christmas a near-by disc jockey brought be a whole car full of leftover toys from their Christmas party. Friends supplied cash. You should have seen the rectory; boxes all over the place.

About 4 o’clock Father Morrison, Brother Edward and I fanned out in three directions. A light snow was falling. “Some of those side roads are going to be bad,” I mused. The sky had spots of grey and black. The countryside was stark with winter. “I hope I make it back for Midnight Mass,” I thought as visions of knee deep mud bogging down the car came floating up in my subconscious. Pretty good, eh? At house after house I chatted with the people and saw how truly they said, “We don’t have much Christmas here.” Some didn’t even have a cheap wreath or a cardboard, “Merry Christmas” sign. Our boxes of clothes, toys and sometimes food brought shouts of “Hey, oh glory, and mmmmmm!”

Three and one-half legs

As I headed back to the base parish, my heart was full. I had had the real Christmas joy of helping the poor. The poor thanked me, but they should have thanked all the friends of Glenmary. They were the ones who made it all possible. 

Read Previous Installment
ADVENTures in time: Father Dorn’s Christmas Tree