Kevin Cullen

The window and the pain

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / December 24, 2009

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Sam Bedros unlocked the door and walked to the back of the church. It was dark, but the afternoon light came through the stained-glass window like a spotlight, bathing the floor in a heavenly blue.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’’ Sam Bedros said.

The stained-glass window at St. Ambrose Church had been smashed, and a thief had crawled through the hole and went to the poor box under the statue of Our Lady of Fatima and ripped it open.

“They left all the change behind. They grabbed the bills but left the change. The old Vietnamese men put change in all the time. They don’t have much, but they put in what they can. I had to scoop up all the quarters,’’ Sam Bedros said.

The people who pray or find solace at St. Ambrose in Fields Corner don’t have much money. But somebody who does sent a big check to the church.

“There was one gentleman in particular, who said he wanted to pay for the window,’’ Sam Bedros said. “But other people sent money, too. They wanted to help not just because the window was broken but because the money for the poor was stolen. There are many good people out there. From something so sad came something so good.’’

Sam Bedros is an Armenian who was born in Egypt and came here as a young man. He works a couple of days a week at St. Ambrose, keeping the books.

He prayed for the guy who broke the window and stole the poor box. They never figured out who it was.

“That’s between him and God,’’ Sam Bedros said.

They reinforced the locks on the poor box. But fixing the stained-glass window was far more complicated, a job for an artisan.

It took the glazier a month to get it just right, just in time for Christmas, a time of rebirth. The window showing Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee was reborn.

It’s not always calm in this part of the city. But this time of year is calmer. Outside, a siren wailed in the distance. Yellow school buses idled on Adams Street, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Kids stared out the bus windows blankly.

“The glazier’s work,’’ Sam Bedros said, locking the door to the church, “it’s so intricate.’’

Unfortunately, there was nothing in the glazier’s bag that could fix the parish’s administrator, Rev. Alexander Keenan.

Father Keenan’s body was as fragile as the stained-glass window. His neck and back ached. Pain shot up and down his legs. For months, he bore the pain with stoicism. His arm was in a sling. He was living in a rectory in East Boston, and the drive to Dorchester every day, using one hand, was excruciating. The deacon at St. Ambrose, Marcio Fonseca, had to help Father Keenan put his vestments on.

But Father Keenan stood on the altar, and he said Mass, and he talked about helping the poor, the sick, the lonely, until he could do it no more.

“He was in agony,’’ Sam Bedros said. “He stayed on as long as he could.’’

Father Keenan stepped down for health reasons recently. He didn’t want to. He had to. The doctors are trying to do for him what the glazier did for the window.

One of Father Keenan’s last acts as the parish leader was overseeing the repair of the broken stained-glass window. He sent letters to people who sent checks and prayers.

“The glazier asked me what quotation I wanted written on the new window,’’ Father Keenan said. “I asked him to write, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ ’’

A stained-glass window fixed. A priest who loves the poor gone.

The light at Dorchester Avenue changed, and the school buses groaned and rumbled up Adams Street. A young boy looked out the back door window and waved.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at